Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ethical Wills - Love Letters to Your Family

This article appeared on www.simplemarriage.net on 02/22/2011
An Ethical Will is a simple way to share what is important to you with your family and friends. In fact, it can be a legacy of love and a spiritual gift for your loved ones to remember you by. Many people think about writing an Ethical Will when they are nearing the end of their life. In reality, such wills should ideally be an ongoing practice.

Think about what you wish you knew about your parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. For example, why did they uproot their lives to emigrate from one country to another, such as the original Pilgrims; or from one area of a country to another, such as the pioneers who endured hardships to settle the West in the United States? What personal experiences had the greatest impact on their lives? Those are the types of things about yourself that you can share with your own descendants and friends.

If you knew ahead of time when your life was going to end, what words of wisdom and comfort would you want to leave for your family?

You may have a Last Will and Testament for the legal allocation of your accumulated possessions, as well as a Living Will with instructions for handling medical concerns, but an Ethical Will gives your family a better understanding of who you are, what is important to you, and what you hope to pass on to them.

Consider starting an Ethical Will as soon as possible, regardless of your age.

Update it regularly after, or in preparation for, major milestones, such as graduations, marriage and divorce, births and deaths, personal achievements and disasters. Reviewing each version can show how much you have changed and grown over the years.

One of the most rewarding writing workshops I’ve done was for a group of high school seniors at an inner city school in Dublin, Ireland.

When we talked about Personal Values, they readily opened up about what was important to them, how they had learned them, and from whom. Some students were normally quite reticent about sharing their thoughts or participating in classroom discussions; fortunately, this topic struck a chord with them and helped them open up.

There are no hard and fast rules for the content of an Ethical Will, but usually they consist of some or all of the following elements:

2.Your History – Past & Present
3.Personal Values
4.Lessons from Life Experiences
5.Hopes for the Future
6.Final Thoughts

The specific format of your Ethical Will is insignificant compared to the priceless legacy you leave. Whether you choose to write it or record it electronically, you have several options.

1.The oldest method, used for some 3500 years by the Jewish community, is to write it on paper; now it is easy to enter it into one of many word processors on a computer.
2.Other options are to create an audio recording, perhaps reading one’s own Ethical Will aloud, or using a camcorder to capture not only the person’s voice, but their image as well.
3.Artistic people may prefer to take a less traditional path to create an expression of who they are. They may enjoy painting, weaving, writing poetry, scrapbooking, photography, or a vast variety of other media.

Long-term storage is important to consider, regardless of the recording method used. For example:

1.Electronic data storage is continually evolving. Media used years ago, such as floppy disks or 8-track tapes, have not only deteriorated, they cannot easily be heard now due to the rarity of equipment. Here is an interesting website that lists all the retro medias that have become obsolete, courtesy of the University At Buffalo Libraries.
2.Photographs and papers can last over 100 years, depending on storage. Hard drives last 5-8 years at best. If you write or print your Ethical Will, make certain you use archival paper; in addition, store it in a safe place away from heat, light, and humidity.
3.Keep a copy of your Ethical Will at home as a personal reminder of who you are and what you have accomplished. It can be uplifting on those days when you need a little lift.

When to share your Ethical Will with your family and friends is another consideration.

1.Ideally, the sooner an Ethical Will is shared with loved ones, the better. Doing so can be an excellent opportunity to grow closer to the people who matter most. It can also establish a line of communication that might otherwise not be possible.
2.Many people prefer to save their Ethical Will until after they have passed away. They may choose to have it read at their wake, funeral, or memorial service. In this case, it is especially important that the Ethical Will be given to a specific person who is charged with its dissemination at a designated time.
3.Review your Ethical Will regularly, such as every five years. Think of it as a work in progress, rather than a one-time occurrence. It is interesting to see how your values and advice for others may have changed over the years.

There are many excellent sources for more details about writing your Ethical Will, including the Association of Personal Historians (APH) and Barry Baines, M.D.

In addition, we will discuss in a future column how to get started on your own Ethical Will.

Have you considered writing an Ethical Will? If so, what are your thoughts and concerns about them? We love to get you input and feedback!

(photo source: www.flickr.com/photos/spaceamoeba/)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Have you left a legacy for your family? An Ethical Will is a love letter to the family that passes on personal stories, values, beliefs, blessings and advice from one generation to another. The perfect time to write one is before or after any milestone events, such as a birth, adoption, marriage, achievement, or part of estate planning as we mature.

Join us for a retreat at The Center in Palos Park, IL. (See details below, from p.7 of their newsletter.)

It's from 5 PM Friday night to 5 PM Saturday, Feb 18 and 19th. With our guidance and direction, the retreat participants will write their Ethical Will and leave with a beautiful archival document they will love.

I'm excited about presenting this retreat with Eileen Kerlin Walsh. It falls in very nicely with workshops I've done on Personal Values, which is one important part of an Ethical Will. As an additional incentive, I'll offer a free copy of my book, Granny's Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories, for those of you who join us for the retreat. Just send me an email message (beth@bethlamie.com) after you register at www.thecenterpalos.org and I'll bring your copy with me.

Feel free to forward this message to any friends and contact me with any questions or suggestions. Your ongoing support is greatly appreciated.

Writing a legacy of your values

Friday, Feb. 18, 5 p.m. – Saturday, Feb. 19, 5 p.m.

Retreat leaders: Eileen Kerlin Walsh, Beth LaMie and Lois Lauer

You are invited to reflect upon your life's journey, and write your own personal Ethical Will, which is "a personal legacy that transmits your non-material assets, your values, your story, the lessons life has taught you, the information that is too valuable to risk being lost." Using this wonderful description by author Susan Turnbull, Eileen and Beth will help you to write meaningful ethical wills--to your children, to yourself, perhaps to the world.

The weekend will include time for reflection and writing, time for inspiring guidance, time for walks in the woods, and of course, time for fellowship, fun, and relaxa-tion. Eileen Kerlin Walsh is a personal growth seminar leader, inspirational speaker, and practicing estate lawyer. Beth LaMie is an international speaker, author, and personal historian. Cost per participant is $116 which includes leadership, accommodations, meals, and all major supplies. Early registration is advised!

The Center
The Chicago Southwest Suburban Community Parish and Community Center Foundation
12700 Southwest Highway, Palos Park, IL 60464
email: centerpalospark@sbcglobal.net