What will your Legacy be?

Recently, our Treasurer, Deborah Dixson, shared a devotion in a meeting. In her message, she mentioned leaving behind values rather than valuables. I was so touched by that thought; it was one I had not heard before.

So, to my daughter, I leave my sense of positivity, love, and resiliency. When I think of my dad, this is the treasure he left behind for me. If my dad had written an ethical will, I believe this may have been one of the many lines. An ethical will is a bequeathal of values, rather than valuables. It could include your beliefs, life lessons, hopes, and even forgiveness for family, friends, or your community.

An ethical will is not a legal document. It can be as simple as a handwritten letter or even a video where thoughts and feelings are spoken. It is not necessarily a life story. It is more lessons learned from the many experiences that occur over a lifetime. The recording of ethical wills dates back to Genesis of the Old Testament in which Jacob says goodbye to his sons. It has also been passed down in the Jewish religion, in many other faiths, and in the Japanese culture. It seems this idea could connect to any one of any faith. Families are more dispersed and many grandparents are not around their grandchildren as they were when generations lived closer to each other. There are fewer opportunities to pass along family values. There is a thought that the Baby Boomers really ignited this trend. They are witnessing their parents aging and are hoping to capture their legacy before they die. At the same time, they are interested in upholding their own life lessons for their children, grandchildren, and future generations. The other thought is that 9/11 reinforced for us the notion of mortality. You can be here today and gone tomorrow. It inspires the question, we have lawyers to manage our property, but what will happen to our values when we are gone?

Some are even sharing who they are, what they believe in, and what they have learned in life while they are still alive. There is a strong belief that seeing an idea in writing is more powerful than just hearing it time and time again. Some write letters to namesakes or to unborn children. It tells future generations who they were and what they stood for in life.

Anyone can pass on their assets, but they can also pass on cherished beliefs. There are many ways to approach writing an ethical will. One can work from an outline or write in response to a question such as, “What are your hopes for the future?” Also, be inspired by journals or diaries kept.  You can use pen and paper or more sophisticated means, that include pictures, videos, or music, but will most likely include these things:

  • Family relationships, focusing on the importance of family and the wish that the survivors maintain close familial relationships.
  • Religion, faith is a common theme.
  • Important lessons learned like the value of education, power of generosity, respect, honesty, giving as well as receiving, a good sense of humor, and that one person can make a difference.
  • Forgiveness, forgive those who have failed them, and asking for forgiveness from those they may have wronged.
  • Regrets, urging survivors not to repeat the mistakes they made.
  • Valuable memories and important events in life.

If you choose to create this priceless gift, an ethical will, remind yourself that passing along your values is all about the life you’ve lived and the example you have given. So, this could serve as a great opportunity to evaluate your true values and whether you are living them out. Beliefs come from listening to your heart and finding out what matters most to you. They are not rules to live by and can change and develop over time. What do I value right now, in this place, with these people? How do I want to remember this moment?

Julie Ruchniewicz – Executive Director, HMA