A legal will spells out the important and necessary details of your last wishes, including who should inherit and what assets or possessions will be passed on. However, heirs may be left wondering why and wishing for a more personal reflection or explanation of your purpose. An ethical will — in addition to your legal will — can express your values and clarify meaning.
Passing on Valuables and Values
What is an ethical will? An ethical will is a letter or message that you prepare for your heirs. It can be as long or short as you wish; it can be written as a letter or recorded on video. It should be kept in a secure location along with your will and other important documents. You may decide to share it with loved ones while you are living or have it released after
Why should I write it? For many, imparting values is just as important as passing on valuables. Ethical wills shed light on the part of your legacy that is not material, such as beliefs, values and family history. For example, if you support charitable organizations for disabled veterans, you may wish to write about your reasons for doing so — including personal experiences and how they shaped you.
When should I write it? Creating an ethical will is a very personal process that involves reflecting on the past and perhaps imagining what the future may hold for your loved ones. It is common to go through this process in later life. However it is also valuable to write an ethical will in early adulthood and update it upon reaching major milestones in life.
How can it help? An ethical will may benefit you and your heirs in a number of ways, including:
- Heirs have a better understanding of their inheritance and what is important to you.
- Tension among heirs may be alleviated by clarifying why you made certain decisions in your will.
- Heirs may find comfort and closure in a personal message (or love letter) describing your feelings for them.
- You learn a lot about yourself in the process, and as a result you may focus on what’s most important in life — while
you’re still living.
- You may feel better knowing that your life lessons and personal reflections will be remembered.
- Articulating your values may inspire your heirs to follow your lead and learn from your experiences.
Update Your Will
Remember: An ethical will is not a legally binding document and is not intended for distributing money or property. As years
go by and life circumstances change, it’s important to keep your legal will up to date with any beneficiary changes.