Wills are typically matter-of-fact documents, as they have to be drafted to withstand legal challenges. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “softer” complementary document, letter or even a video, in which you can express the following?
1. Your values
2. Your hopes for your family
3. Explain the decisions made in your will
4. Provide for or ask for forgiveness
Today, I will discuss such a will, commonly known as an ethical will.
What is an Ethical Will?
According to Wikipedia, “the ethical will is an ancient document from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The original template for its use came from Genesis 49:1-33”. These wills were designed to pass ethical values from one generation to the next. Modern day ethical wills had been adapted and modified and they remain excellent conduits to ensure our ethics, morals and standards are passed down and on record.
While ethical wills have typically been used to pass personal values to your family, some people are now using ethical wills to include financial issues and/or provide business guidance and values to second generation business owners. I will discuss these “wealth” wills next week.
The website for Celebration of Life, a company that helps people with their legacies, suggests you may include some of the following in an ethical will:
- important personal values
- important spiritual beliefs
- hopes and blessings for future generations
- life lessons
- forgiving others and asking for forgiveness
Shae Irving, J.D. suggests you may also want to include the following in an ethical will:
- family history
- cultural and personal beliefs
- reasons for charitable and personal financial decisions
- personal stories about items of property left to inheritors
- how you would like to be remembered after death
When Do You Present an Ethical Will?
Ethical wills can be written and presented literally anytime from cradle to grave. You can write such a document when your son or daughter gets married, has their first child, or as a statement at the end of your life; but in no way are you limited to such occasions.
Most ethical wills are written as end of life statements and can be shared while alive or after you pass away. I would suggest that most people would prefer to have their ethical will shared after they pass away as it avoids confrontation; although personally, I think there is something to be said for explaining decisions and setting forth your values and beliefs in person.
Ethical wills are very personal documents and no two, will be the same. Should you wish to write such a document, the discussion and considerations above, should give you a good start on writing your ethical will.
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