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Financial Planning for Life

by Mark Fischer
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Your Last Message for Your Family

When you die, your will (or trust or the state's will) will spell out what you want to happen to your investments and personal property. Would you like to share anything more than that with your family?

What ideas or information or values or personal history has been important for you? What are your stories? What do you want to be remembered for, besides your money?

Do you have instructions, thoughts, feelings for your spouse/partner or other family members?

What are you grateful for? If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?

Is there anything really, really important to share with children or grandchildren, even the ones that are too young to understand now or may not even be alive yet? What do you want them to remember or to do?

What insights or special wisdom do you have? Are there blessings that you have for them? Are there things unsaid that are worth saying now?

The document you write that answers these questions is called an ethical will. It is a gift to those you love whenever they read it.

There are considerable advantages for you, too. It gives you an opportunity to be thoughtful and reflective and possibly provide spiritual meaning for yourself. What you learn can be useful to you in future ventures. In some senses it can provide immortality. Your legacy will live on if you leave behind people who understand what you stood for and will carry on what you believed in.

You do not have to be a professional writer to produce one - just talk from your heart. There is no required format for an ethical will - it is not a legal document. It can be as long or short as you like. In fact, this flexibility is one of its greatest strengths. It does not have to start out as the definitive story of your life - whatever you do has value. Your ethical will can evolve over a period of time.

A written (or electronic) document can be so much more effective than a conversation - it has legs. You can say what you want just the way you want to. If properly preserved, it can be around and of value for decades.

If writing an ethical will sounds daunting to you, there are books on this topic, such as Ethical Wills by Barry Baines, (Perseus Publishing, 2002) that contain concrete examples written by people from their twenties to eighties. It offers helpful hints for getting started.

You can write your ethical will now or later. Of course, it is possible to wait too long. At some point you might no longer be able to write one. That would be a huge loss for you and for your family and friends.

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