More and more Americans are viewing their legacy not only in terms of valuables but also in terms of the values they can pass on. To ensure these values are communicated to their children and succeeding generations, many are now writing so-called ethical wills designed to complement conventional wills that bequeath material goods. In these ethical wills, the writers explain who they are, their value system, and their hopes for loved ones who remain after they are gone.
One such will is being written by Gary Hirshberg, 46, CEO of Stonyfield Farms, the fastest-growing yogurt company in the country. ”I’ve been doing a lot of estate planning, and you can’t say anything [in a will] – you can’t even use adjectives,”” Hirshberg told the Boston Globe recently. ”Our will has very little to do with me. . . . I would like a written record and road map of what my wife and I were trying to do, so when there’s a big check for the kids, they know where it came from and why. I want them to understand where this came from and to inspire them to think hopeful thoughts.”
To help him write his will, Hirshberg retained the services of Boston, Massachusetts, psychologist Helene W. Stein and public relations executive Marcia C. Brier, who has started a business writing ethical wills for a fee.
Writers of ethical wills are not famous or ‘successful’ in monetary terms. The website LivingWisely.org was created by Dr. Barry K. Baines, a Minneapolis physician who became an advocate of ethical wills in the process of helping hospice patients prepare for death. The website states, “You may engage with our Ethical Will/Legacy Letter program as much as you wish and work at your own pace using your computer, tablet, and/or smartphone to create and share your document(s). Type or use voice recognition to respond to the program writing prompts and upload your favorite photos or illustrations. Additional resources and support are available to complement your subscription. And when you are ready, our professional team of editors, designers, and printers are available to assist you in creating a meaningful and beautiful keepsake to share with your loved ones and community, if you wish.”
“Ethical wills are being written by people at many transitional life stages as a separate document and usually shared with family members and community while the writer is still alive,’ writes Dr. Baines. ‘Ethical wills may be one of the most cherished and meaningful gifts you can leave to your family and community.’
You may also visit https://www.sinaichapel.org/tools-resources/writing-ethical-will.aspx for resources on this topic as well.
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