Agency Viewpoint

In JFCS project, ethical wills seen as integral to end-of-life care

Carlos Hernandez
Carlos Hernandez

“Ethical wills” began as a Jewish oral tradition and have been a part of Jewish culture for centuries. Traditionally, the purpose of an ethical will was to pass on values such as the importance of charity (tzedakah) from one generation to the next. Today, ethical wills, also called legacy letters, are written by men and women of every age, ethnicity, faith tradition, economic circumstance and educational level.

The ethical will process is a different experience, undertaken with a different goal in mind, than developing medical directives and living wills, with which people are typically more familiar.

“Writing an ethical will is an opportunity to examine our lives, to notice what we hold as precious and meaningful at the core of our beings. What are the values that we have treasured in our living? Who are the people who have shown us the way? How have our mistakes shaped and enlivened us? What are the great questions we have asked in our lives? What are the answers we have discovered? Writing an ethical will is a process of life review, celebration and legacy,” said Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim.

With a generous end-of-life grant award from the Shaaron Kent Endowment Fund held at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona established the Ethical Will Project, which is very much in alignment with JFCS’s mission, vision and values.

This innovative project will position the writing of an ethical will as an integral part of end-of-life care. Whether sudden or expected, the end of a person’s life has an obvious impact on the dying person, his or her family system and the family legacy as well. The end of life touches the deepest and most dearly held fears, values and beliefs of individuals and families.

In coping with the myriad responsibilities that end-of-life care brings, the values and skills that a social worker brings can be helpful. Under the experienced leadership of Rabbi Aaron, JFCS will train staff members in the writing of their own ethical wills and will offer in-home, end-of-life care consultations for individuals and families for both care management resources and ethical will guidance.

A three-hour, community-wide Ethical Will Writing Workshop also will be offered to elder care professionals and volunteers. Details will be available on the JFCS website. The project will culminate in an ethical will guide for individuals and families that will be available to the entire community at

Carlos Hernandez is president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona.