When a friend’s mom died, she was left with a box of their correspondence spanning decades. The letters were vivid reminders of the close relationship they shared, but they weren’t much solace in the sad weeks and months that she painfully mourned. My friend was lost; she confided that she wished her mother had left something behind that told her how to live her life without her.


It may have helped my friend if her mom had left an ethical will. An ethical will is not a legal document like a living will or your last will and testament; rather, it is a written document for family and loved ones that bequeaths your values, ideas and personal reflections.  


Ethical wills are often written at turning points in life such as an illness, parenthood, midlife or an experience with death. They are intended to leave a lasting legacy and are often cherished by family members, passed down from generation to generation.

Sentimental as I am, I liked the idea of leaving an ethical will for my children. I viewed it as a chance to identify what I value most as well as what I believe; an opportunity for me to leave something of meaning that will live on after I am gone.


First I had to decide what I wanted to share and in what format. I chose to compose a letter that detailed my values, faith, personal experiences, my love for my daughters and their father, elements of my life that were meaningful and my hopes. I selected my words carefully so they expressed my love while avoiding any sense of expectations or directives. When finished, my ethical will included the life lessons and experiences that gave me pleasure and satisfaction.


If you would like to write your own ethical will, what might you include? Your values, beliefs, personal philosophy or what has been most significant in your life? You might ask yourself, “What has life taught me? What wisdom do I believe will be helpful to my loved ones?”


The most meaningful ethical wills come from the heart. No matter your financial circumstances, you have an opportunity to leave behind something of value. 

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Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.

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