Sharing Family Stories, Values & Beliefs in an Ethical Will


Ethical Wills Have Great Value. That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It!

Someone recently asked me, “What the heck is An Ethical Will?” Although there are many wonderful things about an ethical will, my favorite aspect of this particular planning tool is the opportunity to reach past all the legal and technical mumbo jumbo involved with a will to matters of the heart; something far more meaningful than stuff to loved ones left behind. One person referred to an ethical will as a “love letter” to their family. I like that. True love involves more than good planning on paper. It requires heart. An ethical will loaded with great stories and insight into personal values and beliefs might be just what the doctor ordered as family members find their way through a difficult loss nurtured by nuggets of wisdom from the dearly departed.

Back in the day, an ethical will might discuss how someone would like to be buried or pass on a blessing. Today families often share more than their personal and spiritual values in an ethical will. They declare their hopes and dreams for their family’s future. They express words of endearment and love, along with life’s little lessons that had a big impact on them. However, one of the most powerful components of an ethical will can be forgiveness. We’ve all heard a gut wrenching “If only” story at some time or other. If you haven’t, you will. Far too many people bare a grudge over the silliest things, and then live with regret when death steals away their chance to make things right. The difference that small words like “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” can make is profound. If a person is unable to say it in person, the next best thing is in writing. Equally healing are the words “I forgive you.” Offering forgiveness to someone in need of it is a precious part of an ethical will. It’s the gift that keeps on giving for generations to come as the wounded party is made whole through forgiveness and then able to live a life free of guilt and condemnation.

It would also be fair to ask, “Why should I write an Ethical Will?” There are several reasons that I can think of for writing an ethical will, but here are a few to consider. The process of head to hand to paper can be a revealing one. You might discover a thing or two about yourself through the exercise of creating an ethical will – including your ability to embrace mortality and discover interesting ways to live on in the heart and mind of others. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all want to be remembered for something special. Taking a moment or two to share highlights of our journey through life will allow us to relive the memory as we presence it for others; double the pleasure. If you’re willing to be open and vulnerable, sharing deeply personal stories can have a lasting impact on the listener.

Likewise, laughter can go a long way towards healing as well! The old proverb says that laughter doeth good like a medicine. Inviting others to laugh with us (versus at us) is a light-hearted, fun approach in an ethical will. I have a friend with a gift for writing who tends to crack people up with her crazy outlook on life. I can only imagine the joy it would bring her family to listen to a story or two from her own hand that would recreate her unique sense of humor for them one last time. Some people choose to share stories that have never been told before – shocking as they may be! You’re the boss. Whatever direction you take in your ethical will, make it a good one for your family. Just remember, if you don’t share your personal beliefs and values with your family, no one else will. There’s a reason that they’re YOUR beliefs and values. You may want to express why they’re important to you while you have the chance. (If you really want to do things up right, companies like Story Trust even offer companion products like a hard bound story book based on family interviews, along with audio and video products.)

Having touched briefly upon the what and why component of an ethical will, we may as well dive into “When Should I Write an Ethical Will?? I’ve been an estate planner for more than 25 years now, so it’s my humble opinion that there’s no better time than NOW to write your will – ethical or not! None of us are promised tomorrow. If you’d like me to be more specific than that, you may want to consider an ethical will for common events like marriage (to cement important family values), and divorce (to provide some assurance and stability for the children). It’s a very helpful document for new mommies and daddies to set a solid foundation for child rearing. As the family grows, an ethical will can keep the lines of communication open around important values. If you’re an empty nester, you can use an ethical will to say out with the old and in with a new phase of life with your adult children. If you’re middle aged, it’s the ideal time to shape your life experiences into something very meaningful and tangible for future generations to come.

If you’re facing the end of life, the Parrish Law slogan says it all. It’s your final chance to create your “Legacy of Love.” If you lump the entire “if” categories above together, you’re probably in one of them. If an ethical will sounds interesting to you, please don’t delay. Give us a call today at (408) 741-3500. At Parrish Law, your estate planning consultation is always free – and free is good these days. We’ll do all we can to help you create an ethical that best expresses your personal values and beliefs.

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