Each person accumulates a wealth of knowledge and experience during a life well-lived. No matter how wealthy you may be, you have a great deal to share with your loved ones. An ethical will, sometimes also called a legacy letter, is a great way to pass on the wisdom that you have acquired. This can be one of the most meaningful parts of your estate plan.
An Ethical Will: What it is and How it Works
When we think about a will, we typically mean a “last will and testament,” the legal document that is used to pass on our property when we die. Because it is called a “will,” some may think that an ethical will is a legal document. But this is simply a letter—or even a video recording—in which you can communicate any important values, sentiments, or life lessons that you think will benefit your loved ones. The content of an ethical will vary widely from one individual to the next because each one of us is unique and has had singular life experiences that have made us who we are.
What an Ethical Will Might Include
Although each person will have different goals for their ethical will, here are some ideas about what you might include:
- Expressions of love for your family
- Religious beliefs and truths you would like to share with your loved ones
- Life lessons you learned during difficulty
- Apologies for the times when you might have hurt others
- Stories and traditions that you would like preserved for future generations
- Explanations of why your property and money are divided up in a certain way
- The revelation of a family secret
- Blessings or hopes for your children or loved ones
- Gratitude to God or to certain people
What It Probably Shouldn’t Include
It’s best to avoid leaving judgments or criticism; instead, leave a legacy of loving words for your family. As you write your ethical will, think about the impact it may have and how you’d like to be remembered. Most people do not want to leave behind hurtful words or negative feelings for their family members and would much rather be remembered in a positive and loving way.
How to Write an Ethical Will
You do not need to be an accomplished author and you don’t need to impress your family or loved ones with your polished writing skills. Instead, convey the thoughts that you want to communicate as part of your legacy. We can provide you with guidance about how to write it, or if you prefer, we can help you produce your message as an audio or video recording.
In addition, keep in mind that your ethical will does not need to be written in one sitting. You can certainly revise and add to it over time, even after many years. If you start writing your ethical will as a younger person, you may have much more to share as you grow older.
When Should It Be Shared?
Typically, people think of a will as a document that should be read after someone has died. Although the decision about when to share an ethical will is up to you, you may choose to provide a copy to your family members or loved ones during your lifetime. Even if you later make changes, it is easier for some people to convey deep feelings or complicated thoughts in writing. If your message contains information or thoughts that you would like to discuss with your family, feel free to give it to them during your lifetime. It may draw your family closer together and open up a dialogue about important topics. Alternatively, some people prefer to wait until after they pass away to share their ethical will. Your goals will influence your choice.
Where Should It Be Kept?
If you decide to share your will with your family after you pass away, it should be kept with your legal papers, or its location should be mentioned in your other estate planning documents. We would be happy to retain a copy along with your will, trust, or other related documents.
We Can Help Shape How You Are Remembered
Although your ethical will is an intensely personal document, we would be happy to help you think through what information you would like to leave for your loved ones. As you consider what is most important to you, we can help you create an estate plan that addresses all aspects of the wealth you will pass down and how your plans align with your hopes for your family. Contact us today to discuss how best to leave your many forms of wealth to your loved ones.