by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, March 2010
Have you considered writing an ethical will? Ethical wills have gained popularity in recent years and may be more commonplace today than most of us realize.
Unlike traditional wills that transfer worldly possessions, an ethical will expresses your values, ideas and personal reflections to family members and other loved ones. They are an ancient Jewish tradition whose roots stem from early Biblical times. Although initially shared through oral tradition, they are now recorded on paper. Ethical wills can be a reflection of your life and include descriptions of significant events. Recipients tend to read and reread them, as ethical wills can carry enormous weight and meaning both for the person who writes them as well as those for whom they are intended.
Today, ethical wills are being written by people of any age at any stage of their life. Typically, people write them when they are facing a transition in their lives or are facing a particular challenge. Write them when you have time to think and process what you want to say.
Ethical wills help to clarify your values and put your life into perspective, so it is important to focus on your message. Many people choose to write their ethical wills over time; not in one sitting. In this way, you can jog your memory as well as include historical facts and observations that help to clarify why you think and feel the way you do.
Often shared with family and community while the person is still alive, this is not always the case. It is a highly personal and thoughtful process. Write it however you decide to share yourself with your family and the world, and present it as you wish. Ethical wills may be on of the most cherished and meaningful gifts you can leave to your family, friends and those in your community. It is your personal legacy.
There are several books and websites dedicated to writing ethical wills. One step-by-step guide is "The Wealth of Your LIfe" by Susan Turnbull. Find it here.
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