If you’re like most people, you probably think of a Will in terms of the document that specifies where your money and your material goods will go at the end of your life. How do you pass on the things you can’t see, though? Your values and beliefs, for example, or what you envision for your philanthropy?
An ethical will is a personal, reflective document that you write to yourself, for yourself. It’s a process to help you identify the values that guide your personal and professional life, and how closely your actions match your beliefs.
It’s not hard to write an ethical will, but it does take some time and thought. It helps to write the answers with pen and paper to start. Allow yourself to write freely, and avoid the temptation to edit as you go. Remember: you can always proof and polish it later, or record it as an audio or video file. Writing it out first with your hand is a way of embodying your message.
Begin by asking yourself these questions.
- What are the values that have guided me in my personal and professional life?
- What was my earliest experience with volunteering and/or giving?
- When I was young, whom did I admire most? What are some of the role models that have influenced me throughout my life?
- What are the top two or three lessons I learned that shaped who I am today?
- What motivates me to do the work I do? What change do I want to see in the world?
- What do I consider my most important achievements?
- What causes do I give my time, talent or money to? Why do these causes matter to me?
- When times have been tough, what have I drawn upon inside to get me through?
- How do I most want to be remembered by my family, my colleagues, and my community?
- If I had one piece of advice to share with others, what would it be and why?
Feel free to add in anything else you feel is important in your ethical will. It can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Typically, ethical wills are two to five pages in length. You may choose to share it with others, or keep it to yourself for the time being.
Regardless, don’t wait on this. An ethical will can be an invaluable tool for you while your living, and for your loved ones after you’ve gone. It’s not only a way for your family, your colleagues or your foundation board to remember you; it will help them make decisions that reflect your values—and that are in line with your legacy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For more than ten years, Elaine Gast Fawcett has served as a writer and communications consultant through her firm FourWindsWriting.com, helping philanthropists, entrepreneurs, charitable organizations and socially conscious companies tell their story, market their mission and win more sales and support. Read all articles by this author ...