One episode in the Netflix revival of Gilmore Girls reveals what happened to the beloved family patriarch, Richard. Heart attack. Big one. The last thing he said was, “Get the hell away from me.” It was directed at the nurses. After his sudden passing, his only daughter Lorelai laments to a grief therapist, “I didn’t get that moment, you know, that Lifetime movie moment. ‘I love you, Lorelai.’ ‘I love you too, Dad.’ Mom didn’t get it either.”
What was the last thing you said to your mother, your brother, your best friend, your husband or wife, or some other loved one in your life? Was it kind? Was it sincere? Was it anything significant? Chances are, you probably don’t remember.
An Ethical Will is where you can leave your last words—sharing your memories, guiding principles, accomplishments, wishes, and beliefs that you don’t want people to forget.
This type of writing harkens back to biblical times when Jacob not only gave burial instructions to his twelve sons but also offered blessings and predictions for each son before he died. He told Asher, for example, that he would “provide delicacies fit for a king,” and told Dan that he would “provide justice for his people.” Jacob’s last words in the book of Genesis create the framework for Ethical Wills in a way that is prophetic, poetic, and profound. As one verse says, “Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills.”
In the biblical account, Jacob appears to be on his deathbed as he leaves instructions, makes predictions, and bestows blessings on his sons. But like Richard in Gilmore Girls, many people aren’t as lucky as Jacob was at the end of his life to have the time, space, audience, and wherewithal to deliver deathbed declarations. When it comes to matters of heart and soul, it’s best not to wait. There is richness and peace of mind in preserving your legacy and life’s lessons—not just your possessions.
The reasons to create other types of wills may seem more obvious: to designate a proxy, distribute assets, and give directions regarding life-sustaining treatments should you become unable to do so. These are usually cut-and-dried legal documents.
So why write an Ethical Will if you don’t have to? Because you’ll be creating something meaningful for those who matter most to you.
An Ethical Will goes beyond who gets your house, your boat, your business, your land, and your money—all of which could be included in your last will and testament. It also goes beyond what’s outlined in a medical directive. While an Ethical Will can provide some insight into estate planning and health care choices, in its purest form, an Ethical Will communicates your values, experiences and feelings to your loved ones.
There are many ways to make an Ethical Will, and you can make it as formal or informal as you want. The only “rule” is that it’s meant to be unique to you. You can share your views on money, marriage, and raising children. You can tell stories and include family histories. You can tuck in family recipes, old photographs, and pieces of sage advice.
What’s more, you can create an Ethical Will at any time—when your children are born or turning 18, when you’re in good health or undergoing treatment, when you’re 30 or 90 or anywhere in between. The beauty of this type of writing is that it encourages self-reflection.
And if you have any regrets or apologies, it may even grant you the time and space to improve some relationships or complete some items on a bucket list—visit the Louvre, swim with dolphins, learn to salsa dance, sing karaoke, or go back to college—which, in turn, gives you more to write about, more to share.
Do whatever you need to do to live fully, and then document your will in words that reflect the love, wisdom, and blessings of your life.