Most people are familiar with documents like the “Last Will and Testament” and the “Living Will.” These are legally-binding documents that express an individual’s wishes regarding disposition of their assets upon death and end of life medical decisions respectively but have you heard of an “Ethical Will?” This may be a term you have never encountered before, but can be of much value both to the individual and to their family.
The ethical will gives the writer an opportunity to document and reflect on their life story and leaves their family with a gift they will certainly treasure for generations. An article in Barron’s online (http://online.barrons.com/articles/SB50001424052970204883804575483921684638904) describes how to write an Ethical Will and speaks to its importance. The article references research studies that suggest internal strife is the main reason families lose their wealth quickly. Passing along a document like the Ethical Will can prevent this internal strife from occurring within your family.
An Ethical Will is more concerned with the individual’s values and feelings than traditional estate planning documents. This document is not legally-binding and there are no rules or criteria for how it should be created or what exactly it should include. An Ethical Will can range in size from a letter to a novel, and can even be created in video format. Essentially, the Ethical Will captures what has been most important to the individual throughout their life; it is an expression of love for family members left behind and often describes what the individual wants their wealth to mean to their family. Ultimately, an Ethical Will can be considered a letter of instruction for how the individual would like their heirs to utilize their inheritance.