In midlife, we sometimes question ourselves about our mortality, what we have learnt along our journey so far and which kind of legacy we will be able to leave behind one day. But how many of us have ever thought of writing an Ethical Will?
Unlike a Legal Will, which is a tool for transferring your properties and other values, this ‘spiritual document‘ is designed to pass on things like guiding principles, memories, values, and wishes for your family’s future.
You’ll probably think writing one at the age of 40 or 50 might sound premature but it’s not as it would give you a way to understand your path and a compass to help you move with purpose and determination in life, learning more about yourselves and finding rooms for self-improvement, too. Like journal-keeping, it’s an act of self-discovery, requiring deep reflection. It clarifies your identity and perhaps you’ll find that one of the best reasons to craft an Ethical Will is for your own sake. As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner remind us in A Leader’s Legacy, “by asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if we matter“.
If you are interested in crafting a good one, know that there are no rules or specific times to write this ‘spiritual document’. You can start creating an Ethical Will at any age or at significant turning points in your life ( when getting married, having children, or becoming empty nesters) and build on it over time as you continue to accumulate wisdom and knowledge. All you need is a desire to pass on what helped make you the person you are today.
Whether you decide to write it as a simple handwritten or typed letter or to record it in video or audio format, there’s no right and wrong way to express what only you can say. It can be a couple of pages or a few sentences, the most important thing is being able to express what you want most for and from your children or grandchildren.
In So That Your Values Live On: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them, Rabbi Jack Riemer advises you to think about what you’d say if you had time to write just one page:
- To whom would it be addressed?
- What would it say?
- What would you leave out?
- What lessons have you learned that you would like to impart?
- What do you want to be remembered for?
- Is there anything in your life you would have done differently?
Be sure to write it in your own voice and speak from the heart, making it a sincere, descriptive, uniquely personal message to your loved ones: you’ll never know, this record of life lessons, wishes, and dreams may last even longer than a financial reward.