The Most Precious Gift You Can Ever Give

This is the last book I read: It was sitting on my bedside table right next to this one, which I fully intend to read, soon:, but that’s a topic for a different post entirely! The tradition of ethical wills dates back at least to the beginning of recorded history, though they were originally delivered orally, usually on one’s death bed. Women, historically lacking the ability to own property and therefore having little to nothing in the way of tangible valuables to pass on, perfected the art of passing on their most precious assets, their personal values. More recently, people have chosen to write, occasionally revise, add to, and share their ethical wills with their loved ones on such momentous occasions as milestone birthdays, graduations, weddings, and the addition of children to one’s family.

As part of my estate planning practice, and particularly when working with parents of very young children like my own to draft Wills and name Guardians for minor children, I routinely recommend writing an “ethical will” of sorts. This need be no more complicated than a simple letter to one’s children and/or set of “instructions” as guidance to their named Guardians. In your ethical will, which can be as long or short as you would like, in flowing prose or bulleted list form, you can lay out your wishes, hopes, and dreams for your children. You can share your formative experiences, cautionary tales, best advice, and fondest memories. You can preserve family ties by reminding of ancestors, traditions, and stories which might otherwise be lost with the passage of time.

An alternative to the format of a written letter, which may and should now be stored electronically, many people choose spoken audio or video recordings to pass along their ethical Wills. I personally treasure the brief snippets of videotape in which I can see the faces and hear the voices of my own grandparents and great-grandfather who have long since passed away. There are several varieties of books readily for sale to fill in blanks (like one we bought for my in-laws), but an easy, relatively inexpensive, more personalized, do-it-yourself alternative is a photo story book through a service such as iPhoto on Mac computers (see: or (see:

Although most of my clients start out at least by telling me that they “have nothing” and “just need a simple will,” I assure you that everyone has something absolutely priceless to leave to loved ones as part of a complete estate plan. There is truly no more precious gift you could leave than your ethical will.


About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: or call: 781-740-0848

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