Ethical Wills

Consider leaving more than your property to your family.

A friend, who had been recently diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, came to me for advice on how to get his legal and financial affairs in order. I explained that he needed to name agents to make medical and financial decisions for him. We discussed what government programs and benefits were available to help pay for his care. Knowing that my friend loved his family, I then encouraged him to write letters to his wife and children to let them know how much he cared for them.

Like a letter written to loved ones, there is something called an Ethical Will that gives us the opportunity to express our thoughts, love, and values in writing for those we love. Why should we leave something in writing for our family? Eric Weiner, PhD, the author of “Ethical Wills: Words from the Jewish HEART” gives the following reasons for people to express their values to their family and future generations in an letter or Ethical Will:

“It hit me like a strong punch to the gut. During a keynote address, the speaker asked us if we knew the names of our grandparents. Most in attendance raised their hands. He then asked us if we knew the names and something about all eight of our great-grandparents. Less than half responded. I knew one grandparent. I never met any of my great-grandparents and knew very little about almost all of them. Will my fate be the same? Will I be remembered by some descendent 50 years from now who happens to be named after me?

Jews have long pondered this and developed a tool that promotes intergenerational connections. The ethical will allows us to tell our story for current and future generations. For Jews, it is not enough to only leave a traditional Will. We also have a spiritual duty to guide the next generation, to
help brighten their way through life.

Where a traditional Will emphasizes money, possessions, real estate, and valuables, an Ethical Will describes our values, life stories, and blessings. While not a legal document, it adds something meaningful to the static, dry documents that rely on tax and legal language. Ethical Wills use the language of hope and immortality.

Ethical Wills have a long and rich tradition in Jewish history. They were first described 3,000 years ago in the Hebrew Bible when Jacob addressed his 12 sons on his deathbed. He told them stories, predicted their futures, and imparted his life lessons. . .

The main ingredient for writing an Ethical Will is to speak from the heart. You are constrained only by the limits of your imagination; just keep it positive. For example, here is an excerpt from an Ethical Will:

‘‘Respect life – yours and others. I’m a believer in the Golden Rule—treat other people the way you want to be treated. I hope you find a vocation that adds value to the world . . . I feel lucky to have worked in hospice. Trying to relieve suffering has been a worthwhile pursuit for me.’

By writing an Ethical Will, maybe 50 years from now, if asked, our descendants will know something about us – how we lived our lives, what we stood for and believed in.” (Ethical Wills: Words from the Jewish HEART)

As you consider taking the time to express your thoughts in writing, remember that this is a chance for you to leave something that will touch the hearts of your family and future generations.

View our “Senior’s Guide to a Well-Planned Future” on our website! Packer Elder Care Law – with you for life!

Tom Packer is an Elder Law Attorney serving all Southeast Idaho. As part of his law practice, Tom offers Life Care Planning to deal with the challenges created by long-term illness, disability and incapacity. If you have a question about a Senior’s legal, financial or healthcare needs, please call us.

March 2022