If you have a Last Will and Testament, you may think that you have done all you can to provide for your family in the event of your death. However, you have only provided for who receives your assets, not a way to let your family know about you, your values and your life. To provide that information, you may also need an Ethical will. An Ethical will is a personal document by which you pass on other important assets: your values, blessings on your family, the lessons of life, love, and personal dreams, even forgiveness with your family and friends. Your words may have the ability to connect the generations and provide all with peace of mind.
Historically, Ethical wills have existed for thousands of years. They were first described as much as 3000 years ago in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. References are made to Ethical wills as well in other religions and cultures. Traditionally, Ethical wills were only transmitted orally. Over time, they evolved into written documents. The earliest known written non-Biblical Ethical will dated back to the 11th century. These early kinds of Ethical wills had titles like "Father's Ethics" or "Teachings of the Fathers" and were read by the family after death.
People have different reasons for preparing an Ethical will. Some want to be remembered. Some want to preserve family stories. Some want to identify what they value most and what they stand for. For some, it allows them to come to terms with mortality by creating something of meaning for future generations. It can also provide a sense of completion in our lives.
Preparing an Ethical will might seem a daunting task. However, you can think of it simply as a love letter to your family. Here are some topic ideas to get started: what I learned from my parents/grandparents; challenges I've faced and lessons I've learned; my heritage; my dreams for my children or the future world. Start by picking some topics and simply writing out your ideas and thoughts. Think of it as a diary that you will be adding to over time. Write about important times of your life. Add articles from newspapers or magazines that express your views. After several weeks or a month, review what you have collected. Organize your thoughts and articles by the patterns that emerge. Then, you can add an introduction and conclusion.
As an alternative, today there is wide access to new forms of technology, and an Ethical will could be prepared on a DVD, with video clips, photographs, sound bites, music, etc. Copies of the DVD can be provided to family members or friends. Video of YOU stating your opinions, feelings, values and messages to your loved ones can be profoundly moving.
In thinking about an Ethical Will for yourself, consider "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, which was not only a legacy for his family, but a bestseller that touched the lives of millions. An Ethical will could be the most meaningful gift you can leave to your family at your death.