The Ultimate Gift movie and “ethical wills”

As a member of the Association of Personal Historians, I got invited to a preview screening of  The Ultimate Gift  last fall. The movie has now been released and is causing a resurgence in discussions over “ethical wills”  (which are also known as “legacy statements” and “legacy letters”).

Ethical wills are nonbinding letters to the heirs of a deceased that are written in addition to an actual will. They are usually intended to be upbeat and to relay messages to friends and family members who are left behind—often messages that the deceased could not deliver for one reason or another during his or her lifetime or general thoughts that he or she wanted to be sure were passed along one last time. Ethical wills sometimes contain

  • explanations for difficult decisions or certain actions
  • challenges and hopes for future generations
  • valuable life lessons and experiences or memories

The story of The Ultimate Gift, for example, focuses primarily on one man’s lingering hope that his final protege, a “lost” grandson, “deserves” to inherit the family company—and fortune. From the film’s Web site:

When his wealthy grandfather dies, trust fund baby Jason Stevens anticipates a big inheritance. Instead, his grandfather has devised a crash course on life with twelve tasks—or “gifts”—designed to challenge Jason in improbable ways, sending him on a journey of self-discovery and forcing him to determine what is most important in life: money or happiness.

If you are interested in learning about the potential for ethical wills, I suggest you see  The Ultimate Gift  (starring James Garner, Brian Dennehy, Drew Fuller, Bill Cobbs, Lee Merriwether, Alli Hillis, and child star Abigail Breslin).