Ethical wills aren’t new. They’ve been around for centuries and were once communicated verbally to pass on values to future generations. Ethical wills are now written with the goal of communicating personal wisdom and values to the next generation. WTOP discussed this topic in its article, “What to know about ethical wills.”
An ethical will provides you with a sense of an individual’s personal life lessons shared as part of their legacy. They detail critical moments in a family’s history to inform and inspire generations to come. In contrast, a last will and testament gives instructions on how your financial assets are to be distributed.
An ethical will can complement a legal will with information you’d share if you were alive. Although ethical wills aren’t legally binding, they’re increasingly used to convey a person’s hopes and dreams for their family and to help explain decisions made in a legal will. When read with the will, an ethical will may help reduce potential conflict within the family.
Here are some situations when you might consider an ethical will:
- Parents can write a letter to a newborn or newly adopted child expressing their hopes and dreams for the child and the values they want to use in the child’s life;
- When a child marries, parents can stress important family traditions to be carried on in their own family;
- Some families note the desire to preserve and pass down family photo albums or legacy writings;
- An ethical will can be used to explain the source of the family’s wealth or to communicate values concerning the use of that wealth;
- When an individual has a significant life event (particularly one that impacted the whole family), she may want to communicate how that event changed her life and perspective; and
- Parents may choose to write a letter thanking their children for the joyful memories and accomplishments they’ve shared as a family.
An ethical will is usually a handwritten letter addressed to children and grandchildren. Many begin writing an ethical will with notes about core beliefs and some of the events in the person’s life that led to those beliefs. You may also consider expressing gratitude for important people in your life, which may include family members and close friends.
Consider developing your thoughts over time to allow yourself to fully process and prioritize the ideas you want to express in your final letter. An ethical will can be a unique way to share your personal life journey with your family, and the process can also provide a sense of life perspective, as you take the time to review your life lessons and the impact those had on you and your legacy.
Reference: WTOP (November 28, 2018) “What to know about ethical wills”