Besides our will, powers of attorney, trust documents, and other legal, financial, and end-of-life instructions that we should share with family members, we need to prepare one other item: our ethical will.
Ethical wills (or legacy letters) are designed to transmit values from one generation to the next. They set out our beliefs, principles, and hopes for those who succeed us. An ethical will often include what we’re grateful for and our expectations for the future. They are best written over an extended period. Their purpose is to express what we hope our children will continue to follow and abide by.
Ethical wills are nothing new. Their origins are rooted in Biblical soil. Think of Moses speaking his parting words to the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Holy Land. Or, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he told his disciples that, among other Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.”
Preparing my ethical will is one of the toughest writing projects I’ve attempted. How should I convey my values, dreams, and concerns to my wife, children, relatives, and friends, whom I pray will remember me with love and respect?
|I want them to know that, for me, generosity of spirit is among the most central of virtues.|
|That our ears should be more open than our mouths.|
|That listening isa form of communication.|
|That, yes, I’ve missed the mark on some issues and ask for forgiveness.|
|That being with family is my greatest joy.|
|That I love contributing to my community and my country. And that mediation is in my life blood.|
There’s more I want to write:
|Please don’t bear grudges; they just take up space in your precious mind.|
|Try not to seek retribution for past wrongs. Yes, that’s hard.|
|Try to forgive. Harder still.|
|Show warmth and wear a smile. Too trite? Maybe, but smiles are like magic wands.|
|Never give up on your dreams, but check with reality from time to time to learn whether you’re on the right track.|
Thinking about what I intend to write is daunting. Putting these thoughts on paper is even more challenging.
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