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Ethical Wills: Pass Along Your Own Life's Lessons to Your Children and Grandchildren
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, September 2007

Many of us are quite clear about making sure we have a "last will and testament" or a "living will" letting others know our desires if we are unable to make choices for ourselves when faced with medical decisions. Few of us, though, are just as clear about the footprint in the sand that we want to leave. This is a gift for our families, friends and community. You can do this by writing an ethical will.

Over time, whether our families live near or far from us, we may or may not take the time or create the situation to engage with them in the way we would like. With focus, clarity and intention, you can share your thoughts, feelings, and values with those you love. You can do this in writing, on film, video, DVD, audio tape, or any way that suits you. And you can choose to reveal the contents of this during your lifetime or leave it for after your death.

The point is that you give those who are dear to you a look at what was and is important to you; how you viewed and view life. Composing an ethical will can help you healthfully confront and come to terms with death. The process can help you to focus on what had meaning in your life and helps to provide closure. Your relatives and friends may or may not know your life story, why you made the choices you did, and what you learned along the way. It can be helpful to you and to them if you share specific life lessons that you learned that changed or reinforced your values. You may wish to consider where and how forgiveness factors in, and what were some of the dreams you had and did not share.

You can ask yourself questions to begin the thought process and take notes or record your responses. This is not a "one shot experience." You can keep a notebook and write in it as you feel inspired and then edit it (or not) with information that is uniquely yours about your personal values; what they are and how they have evolved and changed over time.

Ethical wills are not legal documents, but they may be the most important gift you can leave to the people in your life.

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