As parents, we want nothing more than to provide our children with everything possible. We seek to give them the best education, enroll them in a variety of extracurricular interests, and raise them in an environment of love and stability. We try to secure their future financially and help them toward independence as they mature. There is, however, something else that we can give them that will make an indelible mark on their lives and in their souls. That something else is an ethical will.

What is an ethical will?

At its most basic, an ethical will is defined as a document designed to transmit ethical values from one generation to the next. An ancient document derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition, it has grown and evolved throughout time. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the goal of writing an ethical will is to link the writers of this document to their family and cultural history, clarify their ethical and spiritual values, and communicate a legacy to future generations.

Currently, ethical wills are written by individuals from all walks of life and have become treasured keepsakes for many generations. According to Rabbi Amy Eilberg, one does not have to have a certain amount of learning or wisdom to write an ethical will. As she has written, “Whether it matches the great truths or not doesn’t matter. It’s what you have to give. What else can we give our children but who we are?”

How does one go about writing an ethical will?

There is no prescribed content. Rather, it is the writer expressing his/her most important life lessons and values. It is also something that doesn’t have to come at the end of your life; it can be shared at any time with loved ones or even the community at large. There are many websites that provide questions to think about when beginning the process of writing an ethical will. Eric L. Weiner, MSW, PhD, of Family Legacy Advisor outlines some he considers important to ask yourself: What do I consider to be the essential truths I have learned in life? What are my convictions, values, and important life lessons? What are my spiritual beliefs? What are my hopes for the future? What role has religion played in my life?

Dr. Weiner notes that many of the questions you ask of yourself are difficult to answer and require a lot of reflection and soul searching. Another jumping off point is to read others’ ethical wills. Doing so can be extremely helpful. Many can be found on a variety of websites. There are also numerous publications that outline how to write ethical wills. One such book is So That Your Values Live on—Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them, by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer.

We give so much to our families on a daily basis. Being able to pass on our values, hopes, and dreams to those we love is a gift not only to them, but to us as well. How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to sit down and think about who we are, what life has taught us, and what it is that makes us up as a person? This can be that opportunity.