Ethical WillsWhat you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. - Pericles
Ethical Wills Attorney for Hurst-Euless-Bedford
The writing of an ethical will is an ancient practice, the purpose of which is to pass on values, beliefs, blessings, and advice to future generations. It is an opportunity to create a legacy that goes beyond specifying who gets your worldly possessions. It can be more valuable to your family and friends than the “stuff” that you leave them. Legal wills deal with what happens to your “stuff” after you die. Ethical wills leave your values and morals to those you love. Although they are not legal documents, they can be just as important to your family.
The tradition of the ethical will can be found in instances throughout the bible (as well as other religions), typically in the form of an oral tradition of blessings and instructions being given to children or followers: in Chapter 49 of Genesis, Jacob gathers his sons around his deathbed and blesses them, particularly Joseph; In Deuteronomy 33, Moses walks through the camp of the Israelites blessing them and giving a final benediction as he walks to meet his God; In John, Jesus gives parting blessings and instructions to his followers.
There are no particular requirements for the content of an ethical will. There is no particular form in which it has to be written but letter form is very common. They typically contain aspects from your past, present, and the future. An ethical will can address people who impacted your life, how you came to hold the values and beliefs you have about money, family, religion as well as the hopes and dreams you have for the future of your family and friends. Writing an ethical will is a way to learn more about yourself, reflect on your life, heal old wounds, articulate what you stand for, and affirm what others mean to you. You can provide family history, come to terms with your mortality, and open the door to forgiveness.
Writing this type of document takes effort, thought and time. A commitment to do so will be a gift of love that your loved ones will appreciate more than any material thing you could give them.
This document does not have to be given to your family at the time of your death. Like a living will, it can be given during your lifetime. Like your legal estate planning documents, it may need to be updated after a period of time if you write it well before death. An ethical will can be viewed as a work in progress.
The purpose of an ethical will is to be an affirmation of love for those you leave behind and a positive legacy one for you. An ethical will written for the purpose of laying blame, placing guilt, or attempting to control someone’s life with a cold hand from the grave is not ethical. These motivations are contrary to the historical foundations out of which this practice originates and should be avoided.
We give our clients a Values Questionnaire to help them get started in writing their ethical will. It will get you well on your way to leaving a true gift of love for your family and friends.