Ensure Your Legacy

Ethical Wills

A last will and testament bequeaths your material riches to your heirs. An ethical will, on the other hand, bequeaths your values—your spiritual legacy—to your heirs. Your ethical will speaks to your children and future generations about what you hold most dear, the values you wish them to perpetuate.

In a sense, the first ethical will to be recorded was Yaakov Avinu’s blessings to his sons, given on his deathbed. Recorded in the Parshas Vayechi for eternity, Yaakov’s ethical will ensured that each of his sons understood their strengths, their weaknesses, and what he expected of them.

Ever since, preparing an ethical will has become a classically Jewish endeavor, with ethical wills written by great leaders and common folk.

Of course, few of us know when we are so close to the end that we should consider what we want our spiritual legacy to be. But there is still tremendous value in taking pen to paper now — and not only because the uncertainties of life might rob us of the opportunity later.

Just taking the time to introspect is instructive—for us, today. Have we lived up to our own values? Are we the people we want our children to remember? Which of our actions will our children tell their children and grandchildren about? Simply considering and articulating our true values may well change the way we live our lives. Or, in modern parlance, our ethical will may well become our “mission statement.”


Turning Your Conscience into Your Legacy: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them54:02


Rabbi Weinreb is the Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Koren Talmud Bavli.


The authoritative text, originally compiled by the man who coined the phrase ethical will. The book has been updated twice since its original 1926 publication, and contains hundreds of ethical wills, written through the millenia.

Provides step-by-step guidance in crafting your ethical will, and provides a range of contemporary examples to help along the way.

Torah Sources