“Words fly away,

what’s written remains”



Excerpts from ethical wills old and new

Judah Ibn Tibbon to his son, Samuel, est. 1190

My son!  Make thy books thy companions, let thy cases and shelves be thy pleasure-grounds and gardens.  Bask in thy paradise, gather their fruit, pluck their roses, take their spices and their myrrh.  If thy soul be satiate and weary, change from garden to garden, from furrow to furrow, from prospect to prospect.  Then will thy desire renew itself, and thy soul be filled with delight!

…Let thy expenditure be well ordered. It is remarked in The Choice of Pearls, “Expenditure properly managed makes half an income.”  And there is an olden proverb, “Go to bed without supper and rise without debt.”  Defile not the honor of thou countenance by borrowing; may thy creator save thee from that habit! 

From Hebrew Ethical Wills, edited by Israel Abrahams

R. Asher, born 1250

These are things to which thou must give heed, if thou wouldst depart from the snares of death and bask in the light of life!

Be not prone to enter into quarrels; beware of oppressing fellow-men whether in money or word. Never feel envy or hate. Keep far away from oaths and the iniquity of vows, from laughter and anger which confuse alike the spirit and the mind…

… Habituate thyself to wake at dawn, and to leave thy couch at the song of the birds. Rise not as a sluggard but with eagerness to serve thy Maker! …

… Speak not insolence with a haughty neck, lifting high thy forehead, thereby rejecting the fear of Heaven. Never do in private what thou wouldst be ashamed to do in public, and say not: “Who will see me?”

From Hebrew Ethical Wills, edited by Israel Abrahams

Samuel Lipsitz, New England businessman, written in 1950

Somewhere among these papers is a will made out by a lawyer. Its purpose is to dispose of any material things which I may possess at the time of my departure from this world to the unknown adventure beyond. I hope its terms will cause no ill will among you. It seemed sensible when I made it.  After all, it refers only to material things which we enjoy temporarily.

I am more concerned with having you inherit something that is vastly more important.

There must be purpose in the creation of man. Because I believe that (as I hope you will some day, for without it, life becomes meaningless), I hope you will live right.

Live together in harmony! Carry no will will toward each other. Bethink of the family. Help each other in need. Honor and care for your mother. Make her old age happy, as far as in your power…

From So Your Values Live On, edited by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer


Opening paragraphs, written by a 57 year old man to his children and grandchildren

Hopefully, there is not much that is new to you in these pages.  We’ve come through the journey of life together and I think you understand what has been important to me.  I came to the conclusion during my senior year in high school that in the long run of my life, what was going to make me happiest was to be married and have a family.  Once I met your mother and each of you came along, it was our family that was at the center of my life.  Maybe it didn’t always look that way to you because I was busy at work, and participated in many activities that I loved, but my feelings of love and responsibility as your father have always been the most important thing to me.

These few words can’t possibly reflect all the fun we have had, all experiences we have shared, all the conversations we have had and all the time we have spent together.  There is much more that I could say, but for now I want to share some of the big things that stand out as I look back over my life and realize where I have been and what I have learned….

Shared with permission from the author. 

Closing paragraphs, written by a man in his forties for his children

No matter when my time with you ends, it has given me peace to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for the great joy you have brought to my life.  I expect that I will be sharing many, many more years with you, but there will come a day when I am not here, and I want to close this letter by asking you to honor a few requests:

First, I want you all to stick together, and look after each other.  The three of you are much stronger than just one of you.  Remember that no one will care about you as much as your family.

Second, I want you to listen to your mother, and take good care of her.  She carried you and brought you into this world.  She cared for you when you were happy or sad, healthy or sick.  She has dedicated her life to making sure each of you has a great life.  She deserves your care, respect, and love.

Third, do what you love, and make it worthwhile.  You will be happier and more successful if you do.

Fourth, spend time with good people.  I really believe that we are greatly influenced by the people we surround ourselves with.  It will make life better if you do.

Fifth, find a great spouse who is a nice person and make sure they love you.

Sixth, help others.  This means helping those less fortunate.  This means giving back to your community.  It means taking time to help someone who is trying to become successful.

Shared with permission of the author. 

Two-page ethical will by mother to her young adult children

Dear ones,

I hope I am nowhere near my final day because I feel I still have so much in front of me, but I recently learned about the idea of creating an ethical will, and I was really moved to try to my own hand at writing something for you.  I confess that I have written several drafts!  But what follows is what feels right for now, though in its own way, timeless, too.  

The first insight of this exercise is seeing how much partnering with Dad in your becoming –  from your conception to where you are now – has absolutely been the cornerstone of my life.  My commitment to you has been expressed in evolving ways, from getting up in the middle of the night to answer your hungry cries, to picking you up after a fall off your bike, then onto Spanish vocabulary and cheering from the sidelines, and now as you are becoming young adults, to helping you think through the choices in front of you.

Old habits die hard, and as you each grow up and leave the household (as you are doing now, XXX), I expect that I will still do what I’ve always done, which is to try to keep the right balance of holding you close and letting you go.  What I have tried to do, together with Dad, is to give you the most solid base I could – of family, of home, of summer experiences, of schooling.  Layered on top of that we have worked to give you freedom to try out life on your own terms.  It has been an elastic, evolving balance of giving roots and wings, of providing freedom within a structure.  Sometimes you and we have differed on the degree and nature of the structure necessary!  And I suspect there still will be differences well into the future – but such is the give/take, push/pull of the whole business and of the nature of love itself.

Whether I am present or not, I hope that as you live out your own lives you can maintain the balance of the familiar and the unfamiliar by creating your own solid foundation from which you can securely approach your options and enjoy what you have created.  The most important thing that I can bequeath to you is something that I hope I have already given you: a deep conviction of your own worth that translates into personal standards and instincts that will steer you in your relationships, inspire you to believe yourself to be a fully contributing citizen of the world, and enable you to create your own version of “home.”

Along these lines, I hope you each will: 

–  Stay connected to Dad and me and with each other.  You are securely part of a family, but don’t take the relationships for granted.  Know what is going on each other’s lives, in Dad’s and my lives. Your ties to each other will be the longest ties you have – keep them well nourished; purposefully keep track of each other’s emotional well being; provide support for each other in good times and difficult times, and actively plan ways fun things to do together.

–  Connect with your grandparents while they are alive – seek them out, write them, visit them, read what they have written.  You will always be glad you did.

–  Maintain a sense of being part of an extended family of many branches. Nurture your relationships with your cousins and aunts and uncles. Tell the family stories to each other and to the next generations.  Make sure the family records and writings are kept intact and passed down.

–  Build a web of friendships and try to keep them alive over time and distance.   Old friends are wonderful.

–  Commit to being financially secure – don’t be held hostage by debt; money = choice, debt = prison; start early because time is your ally; get professional help when you  need it.

–  Build a base of skills and interests so you can be adaptable in the workplace.

–  Develop an area in which you can invest yourself with passion and go into deeply – and make money and find satisfaction.

–  Read a lot – continue to educate yourself; nurture your curiosity; travel.

–  Value the spiritual.  Where do you meet the spirit?  Seek it out; nurture your creativity; cultivate optimism and faithfulness.

–  Commit yourself to things – it is where all the rewards are:  commitment to interests, people, marriage, children, work, places.  Trying to keep all your options open all the time leads nowhere.

–  Get in the habit of good communication in all areas of your life – to keep tormenting thoughts to a minimum, to operate from light openness and not be burdened by anger and irritation.  Repair wounds quickly, with professional help if needed.

–  Be a citizen of the world: try to make the world a better place; one person, a small group of people can make a huge difference.

–  Be respectful of everyone you meet – most everyone can do something better, or knows something more than you  – what is it?

–  Seek out those who are older and more experienced; do not be intimidated by anyone, regardless of their age or status; be respectful, interested, look them in the eye and know that you are of interest to them, also. You will better yourself through their influence; they will benefit from your interest and point of view.

My loves, I want you to have this now, to keep it with you always and if you choose to have children, to give it to them sometime, too.  I may choose to add to it as the years go by. 

Remember always that my love lives inside you.


Shared with permission of the author. 

Reflections on money, by a couple whose children are soon to receive distributions from a trust

We want our money to help you and not hurt you. It will help if it grants you access, flexibility and opportunity; it will hurt if it provides an easy exit from challenges and dilemmas that you need to face in order to grow into strong, successful adults.

The most important matter is not how you got your money or how you are going to spend it.  It is how you are going spend your lives and what kind of people you are going to be. It is about finding your passions and pursuing them. It is striving to be excellent in whatever you do. It is also about your moral authority.  We hope that you will always look outside yourselves and consider the perspective of others, that you will not get so wrapped up in your own lives that you miss the people that are around you that are in need.  We hope you will be aware of what is going on in your community and how events are affecting people there and all over the world. Try to take in the stranger – both physically and in your heart.

Shared with permission of the authors. 

From a letter of wishes to trustees, written by a couple

These trusts are designed and intended for our children’s and grandchildren’s investments in themselves as a foundation for futures that they themselves create. These trusts enable us to continue our loving care and support of their personal and professional growth far into the future. However, we do not want the funds to be so easily available that they feel they don’t have to learn or don’t have to work, and through no efforts of their own can enjoy a luxury lifestyle. It is not of question of us begrudging them the money, but our deep belief that they need to earn their lifestyle because by doing so they have the greatest opportunity for happiness.

…. With our experience as entrepreneurs, the idea of them taking their educations and starting businesses is attractive. For this reason, we are in full support of using the capital to start a business. Provided there is a well-vetted business plan, we feel the decision to start a business should rest with the child and should be encouraged, even if you are not wholly in support of it. 

Shared with permission of the authors. 

From an expression of donor intent

I grew up hearing stories of my great grandparents lives during the Depression. They owned a grocery store in one of the poorer neighborhoods of St. Paul.  Often their clients had difficulty paying their bills, but my grandfather was always ready to extend credit.  He would slice up a salami to give to adults and always had a treat for the children when they came to the store.  In addition, my grandmother had a reputation for providing a hot meal for people who came to the back door, along with some chores for them to do, acknowledging what they had to offer as well.  In their turn, my parents continued their own form of giving and sharing.  I remember one autumn driving down the street with my mother on the way from from school.  We passed a woman on the street who clearly was not dressed for the changing weather.  My mother pulled to the side of the street and engaged the woman in conversation.  By the time they parted, the woman was wearing my mother’s coat.

Shared with permission of the author. 

A life lesson wrapped in a story

It was from my ninth grade teacher Mr. XXX that I first learned the concept of “ebbs and flows,” a way of looking at things that I have always remembered and has been very important and reassuring for me during my life. Mr. XXX introduced the idea in talking about economics, but then widened it to include almost every facet of living.

He drew diagrams of cycles on the board, showing the naturally occurring ups and downs that exist in every sphere of life: in the rhythm and seasons of nature as well as the boom and bust cycles of business.  Good times always follow bad, and nothing tends to grow forever without setbacks along the way.

All this has been so clear to me to this day.  I see it in all areas of life: in biology, in business, in friendships, in marriages and in society.  Everything has its ebbs and flows, and sometimes when things are not quite like how I would like them to be, it is reassuring to me to remember this idea and not to jump in and try to force things to change.

That is a dilemma for an entrepreneurial personality like mine.  We are driven to make things happen because we’ve learned that you can’t just sit around and wait for something to happen because it won’t.  Yet, in other aspects of life, driving hard is the wrong thing to do, like trying to change a person to be different than they are.  I have had to learn to counterbalance the “I can fix anything” drive with this idea of ebbs and flows and the patience required to allow certain situations to right themselves in their own time.

This is especially true with friendships and in marriage.  There have been times when I have lost touch with a friend and wondered if it meant there was something the matter with the friendship.  Yet, as long as I maintain a commitment to the friendship, things have a way of getting back in the groove.

Marriage just doesn’t go straight up and just get better and better continuously without facing challenges, disagreements and differences in interests.  These are the ebbs, but with love and trust and room to respect and admire each other’s differences, the flow will be restored.

Shared with permission of the author. 

A one paragraph ethical will by a mother to her children

I fully expect that I will live for a very long time, to see you well into adulthood and to share your future with you. There is much to look forward to and I am planning on being part of all the adventures and all the challenges and all the joys. But if for some reason I am not, the most important thing you need to know is how much my love for you created the person that you will remember as me. I made you quite literally, in my womb, but you made me, too. I am so proud of you and so grateful to you.  When the time comes, and none of us can answer the question of when that will be, you need to know that without a doubt, I was fulfilled in my life. I have had a wonderful life and I don’t want you to mourn me – maybe a little, but not too long!  Carry me forward by re-creating the net that I was for you and be it for others. Carry me forward in your kitchen with oatmeal scones and casserole bread and pie, warm from the oven and made for your own delectable pleasure, or for those you care about.  Carry me forward with an optimistic outlook and tenacious devotion to what you know is best. Carry me forward and I will be with you always.

Shared with permission from the author.

A list can say a lot; from a list of 15 things the author knew to be true

You need to kick off the sheets!

Busy is good

No one has a lock on a way to do something

There is value somewhere in everyone

A joke is almost always in order

Shared with permission of the author. 

To my heirs...a man leaves a message with his legal documents

Wealth provides comfort and financial independence, potentially opening up a huge field of personal development in the intellectual and spiritual realms without having some of the hardships of everyday life.  Beyond financial independence, the benefits of wealth soon start falling under the logarithmic law of decreasing returns.  Wealth allows you to help others, for there is more joy in giving than in receiving, but wealth also carries the responsibility of fiduciary duty toward the next generations and may become a burden if low self-esteem, low self-worth, and guilt for the unearned wealth get a hold on you.  Social pressure can worsen the situation.

… Instead of setting you free, wealth may enslave you with pride, eccentric luxury, envy and moral decay.  Don’t forget that following the Golden Rule and trying to live a virtuous life – with humility and dignity, temperance and moderation while accepting one’s circumstances with grace – is the key to happiness.  In my case, my Christian faith has been a priceless beacon.

Being is much more important than having. Own your own life.  Make sure your decisions are truly yours. Find yourself, be yourself, march to the beat of your own drum and set good life priorities.  Surround yourself with genuine love.  Don’t worship money, neither by over consuming nor by hoarding, for it is just a lifeless tool, and do not allow yourself to be defined by your net worth.  You are worth much more than that. 

I wish you fair winds and following seas in this beautiful journey of life.

By Fernando del Pino, from The Wealth of Wisdom by Tom McCullough and Keith Whitaker

Shared with permission from the author.