In days of yore, the Last Will and Testament included statements of ethics, but today’s wills usually focus on the distribution of material goods the person is leaving behind. The ethical will articulates the deceased’s testament, a sharing of that person’s values, beliefs, and wisdom, and parting thoughts that can provide moving words at a service.
The writing of ethical wills is fostered in Judaism. When adults reach the age of 50, they are considered elders of the congregation who have enough life experience to be able to dispense words of wisdom.
Many synagogues have a program that invites those who turn 50 to discuss Ecclesiastes, a book in the Hebrew Bible that is famous for the phrase, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes reflects on the meaning of life and our quest for happiness. Participants also write their own ethical will and read it aloud to the congregation at a special Sabbath service.
Even if you have no children for whom to leave a legacy, writing an ethical will can help you identify what you value most. Family stories can be told so they won’t be lost forever. Those you love can better understand and appreciate you. You can leave them laughing with your favorite jokes.
What to write about? Start with what you’re passionate about – why you love it and what it has given or taught you. Think about how you would like to be remembered. Are you living a life that would ensure you are remembered fondly? Do you have any answers to the ultimate questions about Life, The Universe, and Everything? (Thank you, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
A family member or friend can read your ethical will at a funeral or memorial service, if you let your survivors know you want it so used. Or take advantage of today’s video technology and be present at your own funeral by recording yourself reading your ethical will and letting the family know it’s something you want shown at your funeral.
Who knows, perhaps it could go viral on YouTube!