What is an ethical will?
An ethical will is a document written to communicate values and wisdom, history, stories, and love from one generation to another. It preserves who you are and what matters most to you. It’s a way for you to be remembered and to make a real difference. This writing is spiritual in nature.
Traditionally ethical wills were communicated from father to son in written form, most often in a letter format. Still today most are written documents varying in length from a one page letter to a series of letters or a single lengthier document. They are traditionally written by hand. (Is there anything more personal or unique than one’s own handwriting?) Some are written and preserved on computer; others are recorded as audio or video to capture voice and visage.
Ethical wills communicate and preserve your values. They differ from your will of “valuables,” a legal declaration assigning the inheritors your property and material “stuff”. Ethical wills are not legal documents. I call them the non-legal complementary cousins of the legal will ("last will and testament") and the living will (your advance health care directive).
The non-legal ethical will is the logical foundation for the other two wills:
As I contemporized the ancient patriarchal practice to make it accessible to moderns and especially women (who often fear writing or believe they have nothing noteworthy to write), I added the word ‘spiritual’ to what is surely a spiritual practice as well as ethical, hoping to make the idea less threatening, more engaging, interesting. The core of legacy work as I practice it with others is to transform the often harsh instructions left by fathers to their sons, to passing blessings from one generation to the next. I believe this corresponds to the deep and often unmet need in all of us to be blessed by our parents.
As each of us is unique, so will be each legacy letter you write. It may be written with a special purpose in mind, or to mark a particular occasion or transition in your life or the life of a dear one. You can share it at a special moment in the recipient’s life. You can preserve it to be given to your loved ones at the end of your life. There are no rules except for you to search your own heart to know the appropriate moment for you to share it.
It helps to use the letter format...start with Dear (name the loved one(s) you are writing to). I suggest choosing a topic, setting the timer, and writing for 15 minutes (you’ll be surprised how limiting the time makes it less overwhelming in your busy schedule and how much can be written in that length of time.) You can always return to what you’re writing for an additional 15 minutes on another day to add, subtract and edit. Consider these editing tips before you begin rewriting or second guessing yourself:
May all your legacies be blessings,
Rachael FreedSee Rachael’s Programs & Publications List.
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