When Frank Perdue, the legendary poultry giant, died, he didn’t just leave his family money and material possessions. He also “willed” them his values, recalls Mitzie Perdue, Frank’s widow.
“Much as I admired Frank for his success with his family poultry business, I admired him even more for his success as a family man,” she says.
Frank had created an ethical will, which is a personal document—not legal—that communicates values, experiences and life lesson.
“Writing an ethical will can be a priceless gift to your family,” Perdue says.
To start the process, Perdue suggests analyzing your family’s values. Then, commit them to paper. Brainstorm as many as you can, as you might find the ones that weren’t immediately obvious turn out to be the most valuable.
Cut down your list to 10 or fewer and share it with some family members. Think about it for a few days and revise it.
Plan on how you’ll use it, Perdue encourages. Will it be read at your funeral? Do you want family members to have it now? Will it be available to non-family members?
“The size of the family business isn’t going to be what makes family members happiest,” Perdue says. “The deepest and most enduring happiness comes from loving relationships with our family members and friends.”
Archive Family Mementos
Ethical wills can also be used to distribute personal property with little financial value. As you write your ethical will, collect important mementos to share with future generations. These items can include:
- Photos (include dates and names)
- Personal collections that would give family members insights into their ancestors
- Military records
- Family diaries