What is an Ethical Will?

Ethical Wills are not legal instruments.  They are letters written with the intention of passing your hopes and dreams, value systems, and visions for the future, onto your children and other loved ones.  Although not as common today, they have been around since Biblical times.  For example, the Bible teaches that when Jacob was dying, his children gathered around his bedside to listen to their father describe how he wanted his children to live their lives after he was gone.  King David also gave advice on the values he wanted Solomon to live by when he became King.  Much like Jacob and King David, you taught your own children right from wrong; yet, you too may wish to put your values in writing, hoping your children will continue to live their lives accordingly long after you are gone.

Writing an Ethical Will is not always an easy process.  Writing it can be emotionally difficult and time consuming.  You may find yourself facing your fears, or having to come to terms with unpleasant actions you took in the past.  It is those very behaviors, feelings, or thoughts, that are often difficult to put into words.  For instance, as a father, you may find yourself wanting to apologize to your son or daughter, wishing you had been more emotionally available.  Perhaps, your job took you away from your family and you wish you had been more physically present in their lives.  As a mother, you may wish you hadn’t been so critical of your daughter when she was a teenager.  However, your heart now aches over those past mistakes.  Writing an Ethical Will provides a wonderful opportunity to say, "I am sorry.  I wish I had done better back then. I hope you will forgive me.  I love you very much." 

It takes courage to express how we, as parents, may have failed our children and loved ones.  Nevertheless, in sharing our hopes, values and visions, we reveal that which makes the Ethical Will so very important.  It is through our writing that we exhibit the very courage we wish for our children.  By facing our fears, our children may find it less painful to face their own.  By our attempt to make amends with them, they too may find it easier to make amends with others.  

Generally, it is less complicated to share our successes than it is to share the failures from which we so often hide, or keep hidden from others.  In writing yours, don't leave out those success stories.  Where there's been laughter, share it often.  Tell your children how proud you are of them.  Whatever you decide to share with your children, do write your Ethical Will.  Like you, they too will be forever grateful. 

 Click here  to listen to a broadcast about Ethical Wills on Talk of the Nation from NPR News

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