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What to Include in an Ethical Will

April 13, 2014 | by Bob Diener

What values and lessons do you want to pass on to your children and grandchildren? Here are 40 of mine.

In addition to a legal will, I recently executed an ethical will because I believe that passing on the values and lessons I have learned during my lifetime is much more important that any physical assets I can leave my children. Many of these values and lessons I learned from my parents and grandparents and I am continuing the great tradition of passing these onto the next generation. And I learned many of these items from experience and making mistakes.

I share the following as a guideline for others who may also want to draft an ethical will. We are all unique and learned lessons that we want to pass on in different ways. What is important is to let your children know how you learned these values and why they are important to you.

  1. Treat others well and you will be treated well, you will feel better about yourself, and you will have many more friends. This is true in the business world and in the personal world. Much of my success has come from following this throughout my career.

  2. Put in your best effort in everything you do. There is no excuse for not putting in best efforts. You may not succeed every time, but you will succeed much more often when you give it your best.

  3. Find something you love and become passionate about it. You may not be the best at everything but work hard to be the best at what is important to you.

  4. Success comes with hard work, dedication, being relentless and believing in yourself.. There is no substitute for hard work. When you believe in something it is much more likely to happen.

  5. Be a productive member of society. Find a career that allows you to support a family and that benefits others.

  6. Be thorough. Make decisions based on analyzing all of the facts. Do not guess. Act through knowledge.

  7. Establish goals. Work is much more exciting and achievable when working towards a goal.

  8. Be charitable. The pursuit of capital and wealth for wealth in and of itself has no meaning. The pursuit of wealth to help others makes it worthwhile and meaningful. Spend as much time earning wealth as you do figuring out who and how you are going to use part of that wealth to help those in need. Learn about causes you care about.

  9. Be honest in business dealings. It is much more important to be honest in a transaction that to earn a higher profit. There will always be opportunities for more profits – but once you are not honest in a transaction, this cannot be changed. It will affect future dealings by others having less respect and trust in you.

  10. Take care of each other. Keep a close relationship with your siblings and look out for each other, especially in time of need.

  11. Perform deeds of kindness. The secret to happiness and fulfillment is doing good deeds to others. There is no greater fulfillment than being able to help another person. The secondary benefit is that the person you help will look to help you in return.

  12. Be modest and be careful not to get pulled into being pompous.

  13. Be merciful. Have compassion on others and be forgiving. Holding grudges and being angry at others for long periods of time has no fulfillment.

  14. Develop a close relationship with someone you can always bounce ideas off of and who you can confide in. It is always better to discuss a plan with someone and get feedback before acting alone. Listen to others and let others criticize your work. Do not assume you are always right. Sometimes it is difficult to see the other side of an issue until someone else articulates it.

  15. Always be courteous. Regardless of how disrespectful your opponent is or how upset you are, always keep your decorum and remain respectful. Respect for you will grow greatly when people know you are always respectful.

  16. Treat all human beings with dignity. Regardless of the social status of a person, we are all created in God’s image.

  17. Remember that God can forgive you for sins against God, but you can only be forgiven for a sin against man directly from the person you harmed. If you do something wrong to someone, go back and make it right.

  18. Be persistent when you believe in a cause. I have championed many causes when the majority did not agree with me. When you believe the cause is right and just, do not give up.

  19. Integrity. Your word is everything and more important than a written contract. If you agree to something orally, fulfill your oral commitment.

  20. When you fail to win an argument or negotiation, never end on bad terms.

  21. Never state a fact that you are not 100% sure of. It never hurts to say that you do not know the answer.

  22. No lashon harah – derogatory speech. Never talk about others in a negative way. Either remain silent or talk positively. There is no benefit to speaking badly about a person regardless of the circumstances, unless you are warning someone of imminent harm. If you hear evil talk of others – do not listen to it.

  23. Be upfront with others and speak honestly.

  24. Never allow an injustice to occur.

  25. Be a leader, not a follower. Don’t be tempted by peer pressure.

  26. Develop real relationships and friends. A true friend is someone that deeply cares about you, and you care about them in return. A true friend understands when you say no to something you believe is wrong. Take an interest in other people. When you show that you care, you will develop great friends. Go out of your way to help your friends and the friendships will grow even greater.

  27. When looking for a spouse, look for a good heart. Look for someone that cares about other people, who is empathetic and honest. Look for someone that you can respect and grow together with, for someone that you can always rely on.

  28. Make every day meaningful. Live a holy and spiritual life by striving every day to do a mitzvah - good deed. You will look back later in life and cherish the good deeds you have done. All you have is time. Make it meaningful.

  29. Visit the sick. Attend friends and family celebrations. Visit friends and family in times of sorrow.

  30. Your heart and mouth should be the same. Do not speak one way and think another. Be sincere.

  31. The State of Israel is your inheritance. It is up to you to do everything in your power to keep it strong. Learn about your inheritance and spend time there.

  32. Cherish the Jewish faith and community. This will tremendously enhance your life. Make sure the Jewish community and Jewish institutions remain strong, especially Jewish schools.

  33. Become an active part of a community – this is important as it adds strength to everything you do.

  34. Have a family. One is not fulfilled by being alone. There is a bashert for you; life is so much more meaningful by being able to share it with someone you love.

  35. Make your spouse happy and your spouse will make you happy. Life involves compromise. Be accepting of the other person’s personality and remember that marriage is a long term commitment. Never say anything bad to your spouse regardless of how upset you may be. Be forgiving and understanding. Do not let minor issues be bothersome. Always be loyal, honest and open.

  36. Be positive about life. My business career was mostly about marketing. By being positive and upbeat and optimistic, others will flock to you or your products.

  37. Be thankful every day. A wealthy person is one who is satisfied with what he has. This is true wealth. Do not take things for granted.

  38. Learn about our people and heritage. The more you learn, the more you will appreciate our heritage. Make Jewish and Israel education available to others. This will insure our long term survival and success.

  39. Keep the traditions. Attend synagogue, and make the Sabbath a special day – this is a great opportunity to renew ourselves, search your soul, take a break from work and spend time with the family.

  40. Your family and friends come first. Remember this when deciding on priorities. Teach and spend quality time with each of your kids. You can never make up lost time with your children. Always stay balanced in your life. Your life will be much more fulfilling when you find the right balance between family, friends, career, community, charity and other things that are important to you.

Although an ethical will is a great way to record and transmit your values to future generations, the best way to teach these values to your children is to practice them yourself during your lifetime. I find that the most effective way to teach my children is by example. Your ethical will is meant to reinforce the values you have lived by and thereby taught your children during your lifetime.


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