I was driving home from work last night and, as usual, had the radio tuned into NPR to get my daily dose of what was going on in the world yesterday and what their take on the events was. As I was listening, they began to do a segment on something that they were calling an “ethical will”. Sure, I’m familiar with a Last Will and Testament and a living will but I’d never heard the term “ethical will” before. Being somewhat the curious type, (not to mention getting up there in years) I was intrigued. As I listened to people calling in and expressing their sentiments about how a loved one’s “ethical will” had made an impact on them, I decided a little research was in order Here’s what I found out.
First of all, they’ve been around forever. There’s some mention of them in the Hebrew Bible as well as what Christians refer to as “The Holy Bible”. Instead of being committed to pen and paper, ethical wills were usually transmitted orally.
In contrast to your Last Will and Testament and your living will, ethical wills are not legally binding. Instead, they are used to serve as a reminder to your loved ones about how you lived your life while you were here and don’t deal with any things such as disbursement of assets you might have been lucky enough to acquire or what your final wishes might be regarding your remains.
Essentially, an ethical will might be considered the voice of your heart being put down on paper. I guess since you are speaking “from the heart”, there’s no need to get lawyers involved and, since all of us have different things hidden away inside ourselves, there’s no preset formula to determine what goes in what stays out of one. These days, as more and more people are deciding to write an ethical will, there seems to be some common themes that cross the party lines that serve to divide us in our lifetime. Lets look at some of them.
Personal Values and Beliefs
I’m guessing the majority of us would all like to be remembered in some form after we’re gone. Sure, it’d be nice to leave your loved ones with a huge chunk of change or make donations to your favorite charity after you’re gone but is that what really matters? Shouldn’t you commit the way you tried to live your life and conduct yourself to pen and paper so that others who come after you carry on in your spirit of doing things and the things you really valued most?
Without an ethical will, those things that were most important to you when you were alive are likely to be forgotten after a couple of years after your demise.
Hopes and Fears
For those of us who have children, I’m sure we all wish them the best of all things in their lives. Many times though, those words seem to go unspoken or if they are, not spoken often enough. An ethical will provides you with an opportunity to express these ideals about how you want your children to live their lives. You need to be honest and tell them your hopes for them and what scares you about their future.
Lessons in Life
I wrote a node awhile back that sorta touched on the subject but hopefully, as we lived our lives, we’ve learned something about ourselves and others. An ethical will provides one with the opportunity to pass these on and as others take heed of your words, to impart whatever wisdom you might have gained.
I think it was Socrates who said something along the lines of “An unexamined life is not worth living” and if was good enough for him, it’s certainly good enough for me. I’m guessing that if you really put enough effort into writing an ethical will a bit of self-examination is involved and you’re likely to discover something about yourself that might have been buried long ago. It might be important to pass that discovery on rather than let it die with you.
One might be asking themselves “Who’s writing these things? I haven’t done anything important enough in my life to write one.”
If you’re married, planning on getting married, in a civil union or in any other kind of relationship that is important to you, you might want to consider one. We do more important things that we take for granted each and every day and an ethical will can help put that in perspective.
Got kids? Planning on having kids?
Yup, it’s true, they don’t come with a so-called “users guide”. You and your s/o might benefit from sharing you ideas and raising the little darlings before one of you unfortunately takes off for the great beyond.
Last but not least, to me, the real benefit of having an ethical will is that it doesn’t have to be read after you're dead. Shit, you can even read the damn thing yourself to your intended audience and not rely an on a host of lawyers, executors, probate judges and the like to get involved in what’s really important to you and how you’re going to be remembered when you’re gone.
Until then, Resquiesca(n)t in Pacem