Ethical Wills – Part One

Mar 21, 2014 | 0 comments

Today we have a guest blog post by Gary Newman on ethical wills, in two parts.


We decree our awesome last wills and testaments and all the other commanding documents bequeathing our worldly wealth. But how about creating our other pronouncement, the welcome but neglected spiritual one that indeed can preserve and pass on even far greater “wealth”?

Our own personal “legacy letters,” known as ethical wills, transform our own lessons from living into our legacies from life, priceless gems of our unique life’s experience. Coming not from the lawyer’s office, but straight from our own minds, hearts and souls, our loving legacy letters to our loved ones and to generations to come deliver our profoundest wisdom, ideas, and thought.

Doing that surely can be inspiring and joyful. Here’s a perfect chance to speak out. Ethical wills are an eloquent medium for any and every heartfelt and deep-feelings topic, for instance:

Our own philosophies, worries, beliefs, joys, sorrows, hopes, wishes.

Opinions about some of the people, and everything else, in our world.

Techniques for the art of successful living.

Advice and wishes about managing our property-will bequests.

Divinity, faith and religion, both ours and others’.

“If I had the chance to do……. over again, I’d…….”.  And why.

Politics, government, social issues, the economy, past and future.

And handing any other wisdom down to progeny, bearing our imprimatur.

If you’ve already crafted yours, I commend you, but do stay with me, because perhaps there’s an idea to make yours even better, or you’ll share some of your ideas with the rest of us.

But, when and how to craft this masterful outpouring?

You don’t need me to tell you the “when,” right? We were ready to help client Judy devise hers, but “Thanks, but call me after the summer, in the fall.” Judy’s summer cerebral hybernation phased directly into the winter of sudden mind-crippling dementia and subsequent death. Her wisdom — lost!

As to the “how to,” here’s my formula:

Begin with several deep and incisive introspection sessions, to discover  — yes, discover – and to consider, your true core thoughts. Recently I suggested this soul-searching in structuring our medical powers, and for the same reason: Isn’t it amazing how introspection can bring to mind so much more about our real selves, and how much more we can benefit from it as we shape our vital directives, our futures, and our legacies!

Like some help? Some options: A charismatic and trusted confidant can prompt you with self-questions, and can assist with the decisions and the drafting. Or, you can have a ghost-writer or a for-fee practitioner, if you prefer. No, you won’t find charismatic soul-searchers and wordsmiths in the Yellow Pages, but perhaps your friends and your professional team members can refer you. The Internet now offers many ethical will essays and infomercial how-to’s, some for free, but most for fee. And, have you visited the public library?

Also, I’m “in the business” myself, finishing up an ethical wills “how-to” mini-guidebook. You’re welcome to its appendix that’s a collection of dozens of help-by-association thought prompters.

Be honest with yourself, to project the un-embellished real you. Whatever your comfortable method, let your legacy letter speak as you would — your everyday idiosyncrasies, style, your composition, grammar and spelling, and your personality.

Make it fun and entertaining to read, but profound, and only a few pages long. Discuss only your most strongly-felt issues, skipping the lesser ones that will burden your readers’ patience and dilute your profundity. If your “short list” isn’t so short, how about doing a separate document for each topic?

Your legacy letter is a gift of wisdom, not stories from your life. Those belong in your equally-welcome memoirs, not here. Nor is it an ego-trip opportunity either; everyone already knows just how great you are. And, sure, you’re really ticked off about your daughter-in-law’s insults, but anything harsh can characterize you as a bully and poison the entire legacy letter, destroying its sweetness and its impact — just be discreet.

You need no lawyer, witnesses, notary, registration, no formalities. Please note, though, that anything that needs to be legally binding, “etched in stone,” or to have the force of law belongs in the formally executed legal estate plan documents, not here.

(To be continued tomorrow…)

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Gary M. Newman

Gary M. Newman

Gary Newman is an actively retired life underwriter and practitioner of related family and small business financial security disciplines. He holds degrees from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania and the American College of Life Underwriters, and is an emeritus member of the Washington, D.C. Estate Planning Council and several other professional societies. He brings over a half-century of hands-on experience and fiduciary work in counseling, designing, teamwork-coordinating, and servicing clients’ life, health, long-term care and retirement insurance plans, as well as their employee benefits plans, cash-flow and investment strategies, and estate plans. You can reach him at

A Good Goodbye