Writing an Ethical Will
Ethical wills are one of the oldest funeral planning tools in existence—even though they have a lot less to do with funerals and a lot more to do with leaving a legacy behind. Historically popular in the Jewish culture as a way to pass ethical values from one generation to the next, ethical wills are now being adopted by a large percentage of the population, across generations and religions. In fact, the American Bar Association recommends writing an ethical will as an addendum to traditional estate planning.
What is an Ethical Will?
Ethical wills date back over a thousand years. In an age when books and writings were rare, the chance to pen personal memoirs or ethical teachings was taken very seriously. It was reserved for a very select portion of the population (those who could read, write, and afford the materials), which meant that ethical wills carried great importance to the family members for which they were intended.
Today, just about everyone wants to write their memoirs (especially as they near the end of their life), and technology makes it easy to write and share any number of thoughts, opinions, and hopes for the future. However, actually sitting down and writing an ethical will can be a daunting task, especially if you want to structure it in a way that not only provides spiritual support to you, but also helps family members get in touch with the personal, religious, cultural, and ethical foundations that made you who you are.
What to Put in an Ethical Will
Your ethical will is a personal document designed to allow you to share your life lessons with those you love most. This means there are no rules for how you must write it or what to put in it. Some of the more popular and traditional subjects include:
- Family history
- Cultural/spiritual/personal values
- Blessings for your family
- Expressions of love for family
- Hopes and dreams for the future
- Life lessons and experiences
- Requests for forgiveness or ending family feuds
- Explanations for some of your more difficult life decisions
- Requests for ways to be remembered in the future
- Clarification about decisions related to your funeral and estate plans
Ethical wills are not legally binding and take on a variety of formats (they can be a single letter, an entire book, or even a video). They are designed primarily to address a part of the funeral planning process that is so often neglected—the emotional and spiritual side. While leaving money, a nice funeral insurance package, or even a family estate is a great way to help your family survive without you, an ethical will can push things one step further.
Instead of leaving valuables behind, you’re leaving your personal values. And that’s a lesson that can live on for hundreds of years.