Jo Kline Cebuhar, an attorney and former chair of Iowa’s largest hospice, is the author of SO GROWS THE TREE: Creating an Ethical Will (2010 Murphy Publishing).For more about her and her book, see www.SoGrowsTheTree.com.
An ethical will can take most any form. A simple, handwritten letter. A multimedia slideshow, with pictures, words and music. An embellished photo album or scrapbook, affirming the values, life lessons and hopes practiced by those pictured. A cookbook recalling the memories that accompanied those prized family recipes. An ethical genealogy, illustrating what you came from as well as who and where you came from by weaving through your family history the stories of the values, life lessons and hopes of your ancestors. Tape-recorded stories or an amateur video, capturing one-of-a-kind voices and faces. Any media can take an ethical will to a new level.
The first step to creating an ethical will is to identify your beliefs and values, life lessons and hopes for the future. Know your reason for creating it and who will share it. Use familiar prompts, such as family photographs, special occasions, historical events or favorite music, to organize your thoughts. Or use an outline or template with prompts such as The values I would never compromise are… From the children in my life I learned… My hope for a better world is… Next, decide which medium best expresses your message. Get your thoughts on paper and polish it over time, letting it evolve along with your life and perspective. Set a deadline and decide when to share it with loved ones. Then do so or put it in a safe place where others can find it when the appointed time comes.
Our most important legacies cannot be measured in dollars and cents. It is what we believe, what we know and what we hope for. Take the time to practice the ancient tradition of creating and sharing an Ethical Will. As Oscar Wilde put it so well: “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.”