Ethical wills

Welcome to the Jewish Ethical Wills Project. Ethical Wills, sometimes called spiritual or legacy letters, are resources Jews have used for centuries to articulate and pass on deeply-held values and beliefs.



WHAT IS AN ETHICAL WILL?

An Ethical Will describes and shares a moral legacy. Historically, Ethical Wills were letters written by parents to children; now, they often address a wider circle of friends and family, and come in audio, video, or other creative formats. They contain non-tangible assets, like favorite stories, life lessons, and blessings for the future. Unlike wills that govern material assets and property, Ethical Wills are not enforceable by law.



WHY MAKE AN ETHICAL WILL?

There are many reasons to make an Ethical Will: to reflect on how we have lived, and how we wish to live; to give and to ask for love; to pass on what we don’t want forgotten; to forgive and be forgiven; to remember and to be remembered; to leave behind something personal and distinctive for friends, family and other significant persons. “My husband did not speak for the last nine months of his life,” writes the grateful recipient of an Ethical Will. “It is hard to convey how much it meant to us to have some of his words and thoughts after his death…We felt that we had him back. We had a concrete legacy to hold onto.”



HOW ARE ETHICAL WILLS CONNECTED TO ADVANCE CARE PLANNING?

Ethical Wills can contribute to advance care planning by articulating cultural, religious, spiritual and personal values and beliefs that underlie possible future healthcare decisions. Identifying and expanding on these beliefs can help us to make personal choices and also to guide others who may need to make choices on our behalf.



WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO MAKE AN ETHICAL WILL?

Ethical Wills are typically prepared when we are “getting our house in order” along with financial, legal, and advance healthcare planning, and may be reviewed and revised periodically. They can also be a part of marking significant personal, life cycle, or communal moments, such as birthdays, the birth of a child, grandchild, niece or nephew; Jewish holidays; a challenging medical diagnosis; an empty nest;  b’nai mitzvah, confirmations, or graduations; or at life’s end.



WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?

On the Jewish Ethical Wills Project webpage, you will find resources and learning opportunities at JCC Manhattan and other venues.  Should you wish to know more, email Lizzie Leiman Kraiem at elkraiem@jccmanhattan.org or call 646-896- 3970.

The Jewish Ethical Wills Project is an initiative of JCC Manhattan and What Matters: Caring Conversations About End of Life, and is funded by the Charles H. Revson Foundation. .

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