Be Here Then

why and how to write & create an ethical will, hospice card, or other legacy

Brief review of structure, format, and sharing

There are several things to consider as you prepare to write your ethical will or Legacy Letter (what follows does not very much apply to a memoir).

Let’s consider structure together with format because they are linked.  We’ll get to ‘sharing’ a bit later.  For purposes of example, let us just consider a one- to two-page ethical will.

By structure, I mean who/how many, individually or together.  By format, I mean letter versus list versus annotated photo/video.  Here are some things to consider, then:

Are you writing it for one person only?  (If so, do you have a specific person in mind, or do you want to make it simply your statement, and leave it to whomever wishes to read it?)  For example, are you writing it to:

  • the guardian you have specified in your Last Will to take care of your children should you not live to raise them yourself?
  • your husband/wife/partner/ex?
  • your only child, or only heir?

Or are you writing it for several people? (Be sure to see Sample Wills #s 1-3.) For example, are you writing it to:

  • your husband/wife/partner and your children?
  • all of the above and your grandchildren?
  • your community?  (Nuns, monks, and other religious communities may care to write these, also.)

If you are writing with more than one person in mind, do you want to write a separate one to each, or do you want to write one and give copies to each person?

And if you are writing one document to include specifics to each person and all recipients will receive a copy of the entire document – do you want everyone in that list of recipients to see what you ultimately write in it?  (You can always go back, after writing it, and rethink this.)

The format may, then, depend on the structure, or who/how many you are writing for.  Since we are right now just considering a one- or two-page ethical will, we are most likely talking about a paper creation (with digital version, of course, if you wish).  For most people, a simple list, fill-in-the-blanks, or letter will work perfectly well.  If you have looked at just the first three sample wills I have included thus so far, you have an idea of what I am referencing here.

You could, of course, create something in a different format, like a photo-based one, or a video recording.  Artists and craftspeople have created artworks or objects that serve as a “legacy” and have written or recorded something about it and why they did that.  We’ll discuss that and show some works in upcoming posts.

So consider who you are writing to, and how many, and what format might be best for you.

Now let’s consider the ‘sharing’ part:  Think about how you want your reader, or your recipients, to receive what you have created (and I am thinking paper-based document but a digital presentation would work here as well):

  • Do you want them to read it while you are still alive?
  • Do you just want to include it with your Last Will & Testament and other legal papers, wherever they are kept?
  • Do you want it to be read aloud at a memorial service, or copies made and distributed to those in attendance at your funeral or service?
  • Do you want to put it away and write a new one next year, see how it might be different than what you wrote this year, and make arrangements for your child or children to receive all of them?  (Parents of newborns often choose this option.)

Think about these issues.  What makes the most sense to you?

There is a wide variety of means by which ethical will writers share their love via that document.  Some people read their ethical wills or Legacy Letters at a family reunion, and enlist the participation of others of their generation in the family, so the reading of the several wills becomes an entire special event at the reunion.  Others much prefer the privacy of an individual delivery and reading.

These are some of the things for you to consider about structure, format, and sharing.  Again, you can always change your mind!  I encourage you simply to start this process, and get it done.  There is no law that says you can’t redo it, revise it, or do it a completely different way another time.

Okay?  Now, give it some thought, and go make some notes for yourself!

Next up: why handwriting matters, and neatness doesn’t.  Then we will get down to business in more detail.


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