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What Is an Ethical Will? Part of the “Heart” in Your Estate Plan

Ethical Wills Share Your Values – Who You Are and What You Stand For – With Your Loved Ones

What is an Ethical Will?  Put simply, it’s a letter, or story, or series of letters written to or for your loved ones, describing your values, telling your story, identifying the people, events, and accomplishments that are important in your life.  It tells your loved ones about you and the things that mattered to you.  It can be included with your estate planning documents and in your When I’m Gone File so your loved ones can find it after your death.  Click here for more information about creating a When I’m Gone File as part of your estate plan.

The book, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, is a beautiful example of an Ethical Will. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, wrote the book knowing that he had a very limited time to live.  His purpose was to pull together “lessons from his life experiences” that he could pass on to his children and others.  It was wildly successful, an international best seller and frequently appears on must-read lists.

Your Ethical Will does not need to be a best-selling book to be meaningful. Many are just a one- or two-page letter – or a video or audio recording.  Your and your family’s life story – the lessons learned and experiences had – will be meaningful to your loved ones in whatever form works for you.

Ethical Wills Are Not Legally Binding Estate Planning Documents – But They Do Convey Your Values and Life Story

Deciding what should go in your Ethical Will is truly up to you.  What do you want your family to know – what important stories do you want to pass on – what family history do you want remembered?  Some ideas include:

  • Family stories
  • Family and ancestral history
  • Lessons learned from life experiences
  • Regrets – mistakes made and things you wish had turned out differently, including apologies
  • Love letters – expressions of joy and gratitude for meaningful people in your life
  • Dreams and hopes for your loved ones
  • Instructions – examples include the famous family snickerdoodle recipe, directions for finding the morels, instructions for finding the perfect fishing spot

Although not legally binding, like a Last Will and Testament or Living Will, Ethical Wills are a great way of conveying the meaning of your life to your family.  For more information about legally binding estate planning documents, such as Wills and Living Wills, click  here.

The Beauty of Now

Interestingly, taking the time to prepare an Ethical Will may also remind you to talk to loved ones now.  Make sure they know how much they’re loved.  Share the family stories and history now.  Make the apology – or forgive.  Talk about the values and the people that are important to you.  Make the cookies together, search for morels with each other, fish the perfect fishing spot.  Whatever it is that you know how to do and have always done for everyone, and they would miss dearly along with missing you, make sure they know how to do it.  Plus, the time spent together now will be a blessing.

Contact The Estate Planner LLC in our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 to discuss Ethical Wills and for assistance preparing your estate plan and for any other questions regarding Estate Planning or ElderLaw.

** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.  This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.

Written on October 13, 2022 by Stephanie Copp Martinez, JD


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