The concept of an Ethical Will has been around since biblical times. It was a way for people to pass on their shared stories, wisdom, and blessings to the next generation. It is not a legal document like a last will and testament. Instead of laying out who will inherit the assets, it leaves a type of moral inheritance such as philosophies, memories, life lessons, and wishes for loved ones and future generations. It can be as simple as a letter written to one's children and grandchildren, or it can be a longer personal history. Read on to learn more about what Ethical Wills are, why you should write one, and what to include in yours.
For those of us who understand the importance of estate planning, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to protect our assets, but we don't always think about protecting our family values. At Sundvick Legacy Center, “legacy” is not just in our name, it's our philosophy and what we strive to achieve with our clients. An Ethical Will adds another piece to the estate planning quilt that all comes together to form a personal legacy unique to our clients that is passed down to their future generations.
There are no rules or requirements for an Ethical Will. It is a reflection of your tone and personality. It can be in any form you like: letter, scrapbook, video, artwork, audio recordings, etc. It is all dependent on how you are comfortable expressing yourself. What you include is up to you, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Things you learned in life and wisdom you want to pass on
- Family history
- Explain the decisions you made in your estate plan
- Treasured memories
- Spiritual values
- Family traditions you'd like your family to continue
- Favorite things
- Wishes for your family's future
- Experiences that shaped you
- Express gratitude towards family and friends
- Request forgiveness for past actions
- Favorite quotes or prayers
In a lot of ways, this passing down of information and memories can be worth far more than anything of monetary value. The self-reflection required to create one can also have the unintended, positive benefit to the creator of inspiring them to improve aspects of their life or mend strained relationships.
Ethical Wills aren't made all in one sitting and it's never too soon to start one. Like an estate plan, it is a living document that can (and should) be maintained and added to over time. You can start by taking 15 minutes to brainstorm concepts and items you want to include. Then over the next few weeks or months, record your thoughts until you get enough to start creating a draft.
Once you have a working document, you can capture memories right after they happen while still fresh in your mind. Ideas to help maintain your Ethical Will include recording musings at milestone moments or writing a page of your thoughts every birthday. As new experiences happen and new life lessons are learned, you add to your legacy. Be sure to file your Ethical Will alongside your other estate planning documents.
Last wills and testaments are typically read only after the person passes away, but an Ethical Will can be shared while the person is still living. In fact, it's encouraged. Loved ones can gather to hear about family history, discuss spirituality, relive cherished memories, and ask questions to get clarity and closure.
If you haven't taken the time yet to create an Ethical Will, we strongly encourage you to begin drafting one today. Sundvick Legacy Center provides our clients with a sample to get them started. It's an important piece to your estate plan, keeping your family heritage alive and your legacy preserved for generations to come.