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Ethical Will Writing

Ethical Will Writing Workshop

This workshop was born from the need of my patients/clients/friends/family/colleagues who fear death, who resist talking about death and who suffer needlessly when end-of-life conversations were never had.

I have designed this workshop to "practice" talking about "it" in a non-threatening way.

My people have found immeasurable comfort, healing, peace, laughter , satisfaction and closure in this process.

What does Ethical mean?

Ethical means doing the right thing. By definition ethical pertains to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong and conduct.

What is Ethics?

Ethics is based on well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness or specific virtues.

Ethics refers to the study and development of one’s ethical standards. Feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical. So, it is necessary to constantly examine one’s standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded. To examine one’s heart or conscience on a daily basis is an exercise in personal ethics that requires the continuous effort of studying our own moral conduct, our own moral beliefs and reflecting on our efforts to live up to those standards.

What is a Will?

A will or testament is a legal document by which a person, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names an executor to manage the estate until its final distribution.

What is an Ethical Will?

An ethical will is a non-binding document, a complement to a will. It is a living testimony to their life that may help to explain the disposition of assets to assist , heal, repair family relationships after death. It tells the heirs what I want them to now and understand as opposed to what I want them to have.

The ethical will has its roots in Jewish history. It was very important to keep the traditions, values and beliefs of the family intact and inviolable. The leaving of a spiritual legacy to family and friends is a time honored Jewish custom. This practice has roots in the Biblical charges given by Jacob and Moses to their heirs prior to their deaths. How to live a good life is the precept that fathers pass down to sons. In continuity of this tradition, Rabbis often impart final words of wisdom to their congregations about the proper way to live a Jewish life. Modern custom has fathers and mothers, grandparents, writing a legacy letter, a veritable love letter, to their families telling of their lives, their hopes and dreams, leaving a precious memory for their heirs. A common retort upon hearing of the death of one in your community is: “May His memory be a blessing forever. “

The Mourner’s Kaddish for Everyday is a powerful testament to the value of memories.

Build me up of memory

Loving and angry, tender and honest,

Let my loss build me a heart of wisdom,

Compassion for the world’s many losses.

Each hour is mortal

And each hour is eternal

And each hour is our testament.

May I create worthy memories

All the days of my life.

We do not know the hour of our death. It becomes significant, then, to begin writing an ethical will at life-cycle events. For example, the birth of a grandchild, a wedding, a death, a bar/bat mitzvah, a graduation, your birthday, an adverse life event, a divorce, admittance to an assisted care or full time care facility.

Ethical wills are the story of your life and as such, you can change or update your ethical will as you go along. A good time to begin is during the time between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, a time of reflection on your life. In the Christian traditions, Holy Week preceding Easter offers this same period of reflection. A time to ask forgiveness and to forgive. To finish unfinished business, a time of closure, healing and reparations. A time to tell them who we were to them and who they were to us. Tie up loose ends. Finish the work.

Where Do I Start?

Start from the very beginning. Tell your story. Tell the story of how you became who you are.


There will come a time when your progeny, the children, the grandchildren will need to know the secrets in the genes. They will need to understand the trials and tribulations of their ancestors and how they survived. This may help them in their life. They may not need to struggle to learn the way through the obstacles and challenges.


My Mom used to lament: “When an old person dies, a little library dies with them.” How often have we wished our parent or grandparent were alive so that we might ask a question?


The basic framework is that of writing a letter. A letter to a cherished one. A loved one. It is often begun at one of the life cycle events mentioned above.


Dear ________-

Begin with the reason or cause/event that inspired you to wish to write these thoughts. Describe it in detail using your feelings, emotions about how you came to reflect upon your life in this moment.


Flow onward! Share history, your story. Give a context to who you are, how you BECAME who you are, what shaped your life, what inspired and motivated you to do the things you did, to make the choices you made. What were the challenges, the significant events, people who shaped you?

*The Legacy:

Give bits of advice, wisdom, tales of caution.

What do you want to leave them with? What values? What really mattered? What didn’t?

The ethical will is a love letter in the record of your personal history, philosophies. Tell what you stood for, what you accomplished, lessons learned. What will you pass on?

This is a communication that is intended to live beyond the death of its creator.

By telling the story of you, your values, your ethics, your principles, it may assist in the understanding of the disbursement of properties or monies in the legal will and testament.

You may, in the ethical will, bequeath certain possessions that have meaning from areas in your life that you recount. For example, when telling of the day that you gave birth to your daughter, your husband gave you a ring. You would like that ring to go to your daughter and to be passed on to hers as a living blessing on the matriarchal lineage .

Write down poems, stories, songs, and recipes that you want them to remember. Make a video or a recording of the tales .

The legacy may contain your hopes and dreams for their future. You can write here your wishes for your funeral arrangements, the prayers, songs etc. even the guestlist, the pallbearers and the venue.

Sample Ethical Will

To My Beloved Children,

I am sitting in the nursing home with my Mom. I am holding her hand because it comforts her. And, frankly, I don’t want to let go of her. I want to feel her warmth, I want to laugh with her and I want to remember. I want to remember all the things she taught me about life, laughter and love. I have taught you, as faithfully as I could, that family is all. Family comes before money or any material goods. At the end of the day, you have only each other. Protect that bond. Cherish it. Have family meals together, no cellphones allowed, look each other in the eye and listen..deeply and with care to the days events of all your family members, no matter how dull or how long it is taking. As we age, be patient and kind, even if you have heard the stories of me and Dad a thousand times before. I’m sitting with my Mom now and I’m singing to her. A children’s song, a lullabye. It’s very special to us. She nurtured and soothed me. I am doing the same for her. We are mother/daughter. This is the way we roll. I am here to walk her home.

One secret: All the papers you will need are in a safe place. I have everything in order. Of course! You know me. wouldn’t hurt to name one of your children after me..for matriarchal spiritual lineage.

With unending love,


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