The Ethical Will

The most important element of a funeral is The Ethical Will. An Ethical Will is, “A document in which a dying person states his or her legacy to the family. It is a statement of the individual’s hopes and dreams for his or her family, the values which he or she would like to pass on and any other thoughts or messages which the individual would like his or her family to remember.” Irish (1993) Its religious origins trace back to the Hebrew bible where it was first described more than 3000 years ago, and in the Christian Bible (John Ch. 15 – 18).
Some cultural universals found in the funeral rite are in the storytelling aspects of ceremony. We make mention of family history reminding each other of the awesome qualities and peak experiences we shared as well as important events that took place. We come to terms with regrets and share items that articulate our feelings with those taking part.

The Ethical Will allows us to address these issues while we are still alive. It is a method of passing the torch. We share our hopes, aspirations and legacy of values with our loved ones and hope that our wishes will be realized through them. In this way, the Ethical Will serves as a method of enculturation. The Ethical Will is a tool for empowering our descendants.

As a funeral rite, cultural norms include the passing on of wisdom, family traditions and records. We narrate pictures and teach one another about our roles. These blessings, personal values, and beliefs communicate love. It is a time of reconciliation and forgiveness. The Living Funeral focuses on a proactive message such as things we are grateful for, things we learned from experience, and things that served us well in guiding our actions. As a rule, we universally want to follow through with final wishes so perhaps we ought to send our benefactors off on a quest, their very own “Message to Garcia” of sorts. Perhaps their quest is an ancestral scavenger hunt or quest to confront a fear. 

Imagine receiving a message from beyond the grave, where someone who cared about you, shared some bit of personal life experience that could not be said in person. These messages are healing to friends and relatives who might also be inspired to repeat the favor to their forebears as well. The funeral home is a logical place to store such materials to ensure that they can and will be found BEFORE the funeral. It serves no one to have these materials stored in the back of a dark closet or secret bank safety deposit box, where they are generally found long after the funeral.

Please share your thoughts on writing an Ethical Will. How will you document your legacy to your family? What special instructions will you leave?