LONDONDERRY, N.H. - Like any responsible parent with a lot of money, yogurt king Gary Hirshberg is writing a will.
But the Stonyfield Farms CEO is going further, writing a second document explaining to his children why he does things like stamp his opposition to Arctic oil drilling onto the recyclable caps of his yogurt containers.
Hirshberg is at the leading edge of a new estate planning trend: He is writing a so-called ethical will, or legacy statement, to make sure he leaves behind not just valuables, but values.
''I would like a written record and road map of what my wife and I were trying to do, so when there's a big check for the kids, they know where it came from, and why,'' he said. ''I want them to understand where this came from, and to inspire them to think hopeful thoughts.''
Increasingly, as baby boomers seek to bequeath more than material goods to the next generation, they are scripting documents that spell out their own stories - how they became who they are, what was important to them, what they want for the future.
The wills tend to be part family history, part personal story, and part an explication of a person's value system. Some include advice or suggestion, but specialists generally frown on any attempt to reach beyond the grave and instruct heirs as to how to behave.
The notion of transmitting values to heirs - or at least to offer some advice - is an ancient one. In the Hebrew Bible, a dying Jacob addresses his sons about their lives after his death, and Moses delivers a similar exhortation to the tribes of Israel; in the Gospel of John in the New Testament, Jesus offers parting advice to his disciples.
In recent years, there has been a resurgent interest in ethical wills, spurred by the aging of baby boomers, the rising interest in family history, and the increased affluence in society that forces many people to realize they will be leaving their heirs a lot of money.
Several guidebooks are available to help people draft ethical wills, but the process is also becoming professionalized. Estate lawyers and financial planners are increasingly suggesting ethical wills as part of estate planning for clients, and in Boston, psychologist Helene W. Stein and public relations executive Marcia C. Brier have started a business writing ethical wills for a fee.
''Most people in this will-writing process are already thinking in this direction. You can't be making your will without thinking about where you started, how you got where you are, and why would anybody care if they got your silver, beyond its monetary value,'' said Stein, who also writes an occasional column for the Globe.
Richard Mastromatteo of Sandwich, the 60-year-old owner of a materials manufacturing company called Us Unlimited Inc., is among those working with Stein to draft an ethical will. He holds a periodic gathering, which he calls a family council, to discuss business matters, but he was looking for a more structured way to communicate to his grandchildren.
''Being in your business and being successful and passing all the wealth down is one thing. But all you've learned, all your philosophies, all your experiences, how do they get passed down?'' he said.
Mastromatteo said his ethical will, which he is still working on, will be written as a story about immigrant parents and his own path from chemist to business owner. He said he would not try to dictate the way his grandchildren behave, but would encourage them to pursue his hopeful, more confident approach to life, rather than what he termed his parents' ''fear-based system.''
''The story is about us, our family, how we started, why we started, what drove us, and what we think is important in running a business,'' he said. ''There is no formula for success, but one element of success is do the right thing morally and ethically, and that will carry you,'' he said.
Hirshberg first began considering an ethical will on the advice of his business lawyer, Stephen L. Palmer of Boston. Palmer said he learned about ethical wills from Stein and Brier, and immediately thought of Hirshberg.
''What we've seen in the recent technology boom and then bust is that people tend to reflect quite a bit more on the meaning of life, what their real values are, and what they want to pass along to their kids,'' Palmer said. ''A lot of people are concerned that the next generation is just going to get a pile of money, and our ... people have been dealing with quite a few issues about how to transfer wealth in a responsible manner.''
Hirshberg, 46, whose company is the fastest-growing yogurt company in the country, said his estate planning has taken on new importance as he contemplates a possible sale to or merger with a larger food company, and as his wife battles an illness. He said he has long regretted not knowing more about his own father's history in business, and he wants a chance to tell his children about why he founded a business with an emphasis on giving money to environmental causes, using organic products, and supporting family farmers.
''I've been doing a lot of estate planning, and you can't say anything [in a will] - you can't even use adjectives,'' he said. ''Our will has very little to do with me.''
So, at Palmer's recommendation, he hired Stein to help him prepare an ethical will. With most clients, Stein and Brier conduct interviews and then draft a document; Hirshberg is interviewing himself with a tape recorder attached to the dashboard in his car.
''People are realizing there's more to life than material things, and they want to tap into things that are transcendent in nature,'' said Dr. Barry K. Baines, a Minneapolis physician and the webmaster of www.ethicalwill.com, who became an advocate of ethical wills as a way of helping hospice residents prepare for death.
''Several years ago, I had a patient whose spiritual suffering was high because he thought he was going to die and there would be no trace of him on the earth,'' Baines said. ''Our chaplain shared the idea of an ethical will with the patient, and he grabbed it the way a drowning man would grab a life preserver. Even though he wasn't successful financially or educationally, he loved his family a lot, and he wrote down things that mattered and he had a tangible link to the future, even though he was going to be gone.''
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company