An ethical will, also called a legacy letter, is a document written to pass on important considerations, such as experiences, values, wisdom, and blessings, to loved ones. An ethical will can be shared with family members or friends either at the time it is written, or preserved to be read after the author’s death. Read more at my Ethical Wills.
This series of posts will show you how to write your own ethical will in six easy steps. Today’s post is the third topic - Life Lessons Learned.
Parts of an Ethical Will
2. Your History - Past & Present
3. Life Lessons Learned
4. Personal Values & Beliefs
5. Hopes for the Future
Each person’s life experiences shape them into the person they become. This third step in creating your ethical will examines some of the most significant factors in your life, such as: life lessons, losses and failures, achievements and accomplishments, gratitude, service, and advice.
A - Life Lessons
Your life lessons often shape who you are and who you become. Everyone experiences and responds differently to life lessons. That is why they are such an important element of your ethical will.
In this section, you can share the details of your significant experiences. What have you learned during your life, when, and from whom? Which ones have been pivotal influences in your life?
I learned this from my father: find something you love to do, work hard, and be proud of yourself; only later did other people say girls aren’t “supposed” to compete with boys. I proved they were wrong.
My mother provided the inspiration to be the best I could be and to never give up on my dreams.
Playing chess taught me to plan ahead, be patient, and anticipate the desired outcome.
My grandmother showed me how to be a lady and still get what I wanted; behind every successful man is a strong woman.
B – Growth from Losses and Failures
No one has a perfect life. There are trials and tribulations, heartbreaks, disappointments, tragedies, losses, and failures. Ideally, they become opportunities for reflection and growth.
Think about your challenges and the impact they have had on your development. Did you go under at first? Did you eventually overcome? Did you gain compassion, patience, or greater understanding? Maybe even wisdom? Were you bitter? Were you able to forgive others? Yourself?
This may be difficult material to visit but worthwhile in your development and for the relevance of your ethical will. While your ethical will is a legacy letter for your loved ones, you don’t want it to become a vapid valentine without substance and depth.
When I lost my job (scholarship, love of my life, etc.), I discovered that…
My illness (or losing my breast) taught me the importance of…
My divorce(s) proved to me…
Losing my parent (spouse, child) showed me…
The tragedy of my childhood enabled me to…
I regret that I didn’t learn sooner to…
C - Achievements & Accomplishments
Each person has their own goals, hopes, and dreams. Fulfilling any or all of them is in large measure dependent upon the person’s abilities, resources, circumstances, and even luck. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Think about all the factors that have contributed to working toward your goals.
What have been your proudest accomplishments and why? What can your descendants learn from your successes and missteps? Which achievements by your family have made you proud? How does having confidence in yourself lead you to more successes?
My greatest achievement has been….(e.g. publishing a book that helps people communicate better, going back to school, becoming a certified Scuba Diver, sacrificing for my children’s education, overcoming certain challenges, working with troubled teens, etc.)
I am proud of the way my family (son, daughter, grandchildren, etc.) has…
In spite of a troubled youth, my son (daughter, uncle, friend, etc.) was able to…
D - Gratitude
Everyone has something to be grateful for every day. Even during times of duress or hardship, it is good to appreciate what we have in life. Rather than being thankful only once a year on Thanksgiving, for example, consider how different your life would be under different circumstances.
Focus on the good in your life, even in the midst of challenges. What are you grateful for and why? Have you witnessed the benefits of gratitude?
I am grateful for … a warm bed … a loving, supportive family … and great friends.
I am grateful for beauty in nature.
I am grateful for opportunities to grow and learn.
I am blessed to live in a country that allows freedom of speech and religion.
I am fortunate to have been born with a few innate talents that led me to …
E - Advice
What advice do you want your friends and family to remember? How can you help them in some way? Think about the wisdom you can bequeath to them. Flesh out your advice with stories and examples. Share some of the joys you have experienced. What are your favorite poems, quotes, books, and why?
Always treat others as you want to be treated.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Look for the good in people.
Don’t do anything you want to hide from your mother (father, grandchildren, etc.).
Follow your dreams.
Do something good for people, every day, whenever possible.
Ready to start writing your own Ethical Will? Use this template as an easy way to begin. Free Ethical Wills Template available now.
Have you started your Ethical Will? I'd love to hear how it's going.
New book coming soon:
The Essence of Ethical Wills: How to Write Legacy Letters to Your Family