Scenes like this have taken place across the country since March, and many patients and loved ones have had strained conversations over phone or video calls, struggling to find the right words and hoping that their words can be heard. However, it’s impossible to share all of the family’s thoughts during this most trying of times, says a recent article “The Importance of Writing an Ethical Will—for You and to Those You Love” from The Wall Street Journal. The increasing interest in estate planning during the pandemic has seen many Americans waking up to the realization they must get their estate plans in order. They focus on preparing wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney, which are important. However, there is another document that needs to be completed. An ethical will should be part of your planning.
The ethical will is a statement used to transmit an individual’s basic values, history and legacy they would like to leave behind. It’s usually directed to children and grandchildren, but it can have a larger audience as well, and be shared with the friends who have become like family over a lifetime, or to communities, like houses of worship or civic groups.
The act of writing an ethical will as part of your planning reveals things the writer may not have even been aware of or leads to connections being made that had never been imagined. It is a chance to preserve parts of the person’s history, as well as the history of their ancestors. It is a wonderful gift to share your deepest wishes with those who are so important to you. An ethical will can bond people and generations, whether the letter is shared while you are living or after you have passed and lead to a sense of belonging to something bigger than each individual.
One of the most famous ethical wills was written by Shalom Aleichem, the famous Yiddish writer, and was printed in The New York Times after his death in 1916. While prepared as a last will and testament, it was a wonderful story that shared his values. He suggested that family and friends meet every year on the anniversary of his death, select a joyous story from the many he had written and read it aloud and “let my name be mentioned by them with laughter rather than not be mentioned at all.”
Even those of us who are not skilled writers have thoughts and wishes and history to share with our loved ones. Here are some questions to consider, when preparing your ethical will:
- Who is it directed to?
- Were there specific people and events who influenced your life?
- What family history or stories would you want to pass on to the next generation?
- What ethical or religious values are important to you?
While you work on completing a new estate plan, or updating an existing plan, take a moment to consider your ethical will and what you would like to share with your loved ones. The time to complete your estate plan and your ethical will should be part of your planning.
If you would like to learn more about different parts of a comprehensive estate plan, please visit our previous posts.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 17, 2020) “The Importance of Writing an Ethical Will—for You and to Those You Love”