How Do I Validate My Life?

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Mark Hogan, CWM, Principal and Senior Wealth Advisor, Madison Wealth Management, LLC
May 2017

Almost everyone is familiar with the standard estate planning documents; wills, trusts, medical and financial powers of attorney, living will, etc.

Certainly these legal documents direct how, to whom, and when a person’s assets will be distributed upon their death is of great importance, but they say nothing about the moral and ethical values and wishes a person requests to leave his or her heirs.

An increasing number of people are now asking how they can preserve their most precious legacy – their values – for their loved ones.  Ethical wills, also called legacy letters or legacy wills are a way for you to record and share your family history, values, beliefs, faith, hopes, life lessons, love and forgiveness with your family friends and community.  The idea is to make it a little easier emotionally and psychologically for the person to “let go.”   However, unlike wills of inheritance or living wills, ethical wills are not legal documents.    

There are many reasons for folks to create an ethical will according to Dr. Barry Baines, MD;

  • As you create an ethical will, you can learn about yourself as you journey through the self-reflective process
  • It allows you to put your personal “signature” on what your values really mean to you
  • It opens the door to forgiving others and being forgiven
  • It can be a spiritual exercise that provides a sense of completion to your life   

In regards to a family-owned business, the most apparent transition is physical – handing over the reigns of the business to the next generation.  Often unstated and possibly more important are the owner’s family values:  honesty, integrity, hard work and passion to serve the business’ clients.  These are the real secret to the company’s success.   What a wonderful opportunity for the owners to complete their legacy to their children by handing them this written statement of sage wisdom and time-honored beliefs along with the “keys to the car.”

As with many things in life, the most difficult part of putting together an ethical will is often just getting started.  It requires some honest reflection on your past, present and future life to make it a meaningful exercise, but it will be worth it in the end.  Since there is no specific document or prototype for an ethical will, here are a couple approaches to getting started:

  1. Start with a blank piece of paper (the most open-ended approach)
  2.  Start with structured writing exercises (examples)
  • From my grandparents I learned….
  •  From my parents I learned….
  • From my children I learned….
  • From my life experience I learned….

The bottom line is: don’t miss a golden opportunity to let your children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, etc. know how you really feel about them and what you wish they would remember about you.