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Ethical Wills: Leaving Your Legacy As Part Of The Estate Plan

Ethical Wills: Leaving Your Legacy as Part of the Estate Plan

Often people are aware of what a last will and testament is – legal bequests for how they wish for their estate to be distributed to loved ones upon their passing. Another type of will is the living will – a will that specifies how one wishes for their medical issues to be handled while they’re still alive. Another type of will that is not as well known is the ethical will – a document specifying personal values and beliefs. An ethical will is not a legally binding document like a last will and testament or living will is, rather it can be seen as a personal letter to loved ones.

The term “will” is a bit misleading for ethical wills as it is really an informal letter that is not legal in nature. There are no requirements for a valid ethical will as it is not legally enforceable. If a will writer includes directions of how to distribute their estate assets in their ethical will and does not create a valid will, they will be considered intestate.

The Purpose of an Ethical Will

Some people choose to share their ethical wills with loved ones before they pass away.

An ethical will doesn’t discuss money, assets or property like a last will and testament. The ethical will discusses values, beliefs, morals, ethics, traditions, memories, stories, and other ideas the writer considers important. The purpose of writing an ethical will is to preserve your own history, communicating your values and beliefs with loved ones following your death. The last will and testament is an awfully technical and dull document that doesn’t reflect the character or personality of the person writing it. With the ethical will, will writers can express their feelings and views of life, beyond their estate assets.

The ethical will is also a way to help console loved ones, giving them some final words and memories to remember you for. Another way to view it is as a way to leave behind your legacy – a legacy letter. In a way, an ethical will can be a goodbye letter to your loved ones.

What Goes Into an Ethical Will

Since an ethical will isn’t a legally binding document, it’s up to the will writer to include anything they wish. Some take the route of writing a personal letter, while others prepare an entire journal-style document. Further, it can be in any format. Some items that one might want to include in their ethical will include:

  • Accomplishments and achievements,
  • Memories,
  • Cultural values,
  • Personal values and beliefs,
  • Letters for forgiveness,
  • Stories,
  • Histories or
  • Family recipes

Should You Prepare One?

The question you need to ask yourself is: do you have a thought or message you want to pass on to future generations in your family? It can be easier for some to articulate their legacy and thoughts through an ethical will rather than in casual conversation. By leaving a document behind, it creates a sense of formality and authority, which can help to cement the purpose and meaning of your message. Writing an ethical will can help some to achieve a sense of closure and look at it as an opportunity to reflect on the happy moments of their lives.

For many people, the ethical will is an extremely important part of their estate plans. In the end, the ethical will can be as easy or as difficult as you wish to prepare. The document can be fully personalized, without the assistance of anyone – you don’t require a drafting lawyer or anyone to help you prepare it.

If you need help preparing any part of your estate plan, contact an experienced estate lawyer today. We can help to ensure your estate is handled as you wish and that your legacy lives on for generations to come.

Have a question about this topic or a different legal topic? Contact us for a free consultation. Reach us via phone at 250-888-0002, or via email at

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