The Ethical Will Project

The Ethical Will Project

Description and goals of a unique program at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington

Hedy Peyser, former director of Volunteers at the Charles E. Smith Life Communities, and Joshua Stanton, at the time a student at Amherst College, began the Ethical Will Project at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in March 2006. 

The project went beyond writing and collecting documents.

  • First, the project trained motivated high school and college students to interview residents and transcribe their words into cogent ethical wills. They listened to resident stories, and in turn, received lessons on how they themselves might lead worthwhile lives. We continually saw special bonds of friendship develop between residents and students, who then attempted to write their own ethical wills.
  • Second, the project involved an analysis of the wills. Our aim was to search for trends or recurrent themes within the wills of both the residents and the students.
  • The hope of the project was that information gathered might aid in the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next and help those working with older adults better understand and respond more sensitively to their clients. 
  • Ultimately, however, the ethical wills were composed for the benefit of family and friends of the residents. In addition to being a source of information about, and insight into, the past of a loved one, the document may well become the key to a unique heritage.

Resources on Ethical Wills

    • Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury
      Nathaniel Stampfer and Jack Riemer
    • The Ethical Will Resource Kit
      Barry K. Baines
    • “Ethical Wills: Passing on Treasures of the Heart”
      The Forum, Vol. 3, No. 3.
      Robert Flashman, Melissa Flashman, Libby Noble, and Sam Quick
    • “An Inheritance of Words” 
      Moment, August 2006. Suzanne F. Singer 


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