Ethical Wills – Part Two

Mar 22, 2014 | 0 comments

Here is part two of the guest blog post by Gary Newman on ethical wills.


After you think you’ve done all of your thinking and deciding, allow it to “marinate” some more, then think and decide again. Then lay it all out, and feel free to fuel it with uninhibited feelings. Then, edit, and improve it over and over again, “marinating” and tweaking it until it’s polished and really feels like the just-right reflection of the sage and wizened you. Here’s where a really helpful right reader-editor can be valuable.

After completing your masterpiece, then what? Surely, the “legatees” should be told about it, and should understand the circumstances about when they are to “read” it. Some “legators” prefer to dialogue their ethical wills with their loved ones while still living and lucid, perhaps in connection with special events such as undergoing major surgery. Some specify the “read” to be at death-bed time, or after death renders their words more impactful and also insulates themselves from repercussions.

If it’s words on paper, give it the dignity, durability, elegance and effectiveness that it and you deserve, by attractively presenting and preserving it on archival paper with archival ink and a nice binder (all readily available online). Whatever its physical form, it’s at least as important as your other estate plan documents are, so place it where it deserves to be, alongside them and of course in the operators’ manual.

The dynamics of life and our habit of changing our minds compel periodic reviews and updates, as we do with our legal estate plan documents. That’s easy  — Simply trash it, or part of it, and write anew.

You can innovate, too: Create more than one, as many as you want. Although most are words on paper, it doesn’t have to be. Some “legators” prefer to talk to a video camera, but the recording will deteriorate over time. My neighbor creates multiple ethical wills by periodically composing and sending read-now letters to his children whenever an inspiration strikes him. — How about archiving and binding those as a family keepsake, Neighbor?  Further, legacy letters also can coincide with and accompany memoirs, stories from life.

Some doomed 9/11 plane passengers quickly composed and texted legacy messages to their beloveds. Anticipating approaching death, Ted Kennedy delivered one of his by speaking on the floor of the Senate about the Kennedy family’s dedication to public service, hope and idealism for mankind: “The work begins anew. The hope arises again. And the dream lives on.” Astronaut Sally Ride placed hers in the context of her own obituary, praising and encouraging women’s achievement and purposefully “coming out” about her own lesbianism.

I think our knowledge and wisdom can be more benevolent to our loved ones and to future generations than we realize. They’ll welcome the favor, the consummate legacy, from us. They’ll be nurtured by the loving gems of vast experience that our ethical wills preserve for them, precious bequests that otherwise would be buried with our bones or scattered upon the ocean.

Enjoy creating your legacy, and rejoice in it. You‘ll deserve to.

Your comments and ideas are welcome!

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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