Do You Need an Ethical Will?
5 min read

Do You Need an Ethical Will?

What's an ethical Will? When should I write an ethical Will? In this article, we'll guide you through the process of creating an ethical Will that passes on your wisdom and important messages to your loved ones. Keep reading to learn more.

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An Ethical Will, also known as a Legacy Letter or Moral Will, is a document or letter in which a person conveys their values, beliefs, life lessons, and personal wishes to their loved ones. Unlike a Traditional Will which primarily focuses on the distribution of assets and material possessions after death, an Ethical Will aims to pass on intangible and non-monetary aspects of a person's life.

What’s an Ethical Will?

The purpose of an Ethical Will is to provide guidance, share wisdom, and express important messages to family members, friends, or future generations. It allows you to reflect on your life experiences, moral principles, and the lessons you’ve learned during your lifetime. By writing an Ethical Will, you can leave a meaningful and lasting legacy for your family and friends, conveying all of your hopes and dreams. Essentially, an Ethical Will is a way of passing on things that go beyond material wealth. 

However, do not confuse an Ethical Will with a Last Will and Testament. An Ethical Will isn’t a legal document and would probably not be admitted into evidence by a probate court.

What Do Faith Traditions Say About Ethical Wills?

One of the earliest religious traditions to recommend an Ethical Will is Judaism. According to the site My Jewish learning, “For centuries, Jewish parents have passed down wisdom and values to their children by crafting end-of-life documents called tzava’ot or ‘ethical wills.’” Originally these documents dealt with matters like debts and burial instructions, but their use broadened to include thoughts about one’s life and the ways they want to continue family traditions.

The concept of legacy letters appeals to many religious traditions. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, meaning that people are reborn after dying. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to end the cycle of rebirth. Buddhist practitioners like Thich Nhat Hanh shared their thoughts on how to reconcile death and loss. Hanh wrote that when he felt sad about his mother’s passing, he considered the ways she was still alive in him. “Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents… From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.” People who practice Buddhist meditation may wish to write down their reflections on meditation and life to pass on to their loved ones.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormons), believe families will be together in eternity. They are focused on identifying all of their ancestors because they believe they can also strengthen relationships with those who have passed away, even those they never met. As the Church explains, “Latter-day Saints believe that the eternal joining of families is possible through sacred sealing ceremonies that take place in temples. These temple rites may also be performed by proxy for those who have died. Consequently, for Latter-day Saints, genealogical research or family history is the essential forerunner for temple work for the dead. In Latter-day Saint belief, the dead have the choice to accept or reject the services performed for them.” Many church members leave legacy letters and family trees summarizing what they have found.

In ancient times, inheritance laws were rigid and the Bible doesn’t directly address formal Wills. However, the Bible discusses leaving a proper legacy. In Isaiah 38:1, the Prophet Isaiah tells King Hezekiah“Put your house in order, because you are going to die.”

The Islamic faith also has many traditions around Wills. The Sunna advises people to have secular and Islamic Wills. The religious Will is essentially an Ethical or Moral Will. It suggests that a person explain their burial rights and outlining their last wishes regarding an autopsy. 

Writing an Ethical Will is a deeply introspective and reflective process, allowing you to reconsider your values, relationships, and the impact you would like to have on future generations. While an Ethical Will is not a legally binding document, it serves as a heartfelt testament to one's character and can provide comfort, inspiration, and a sense of connection to those who receive it.

What to Put in an Ethical Will

The content of an Ethical Will is highly personal and can cover a wide range of topics. Some common themes include expressions of love and gratitude, forgiveness, life lessons, personal achievements, and regrets, advice for navigating challenges, family history and traditions, spiritual or religious beliefs, and wishes for the future. It can also include reflections on principles the person believes are important, such as honesty, integrity, compassion, or the importance of community.

An Ethical Will can be a way to share important family legacies. You might consider adding family photographs, family trees, recipes, family videos, diaries, and personal letters. For example, when Samuel Jones served in World War II, he and his wife Trudy wrote love letters. These have become very important to the family legacy. When Samuel’s daughter was writing her Ethical Will, she wanted to leave the letters to her daughter with instructions on how to preserve them for generations to come. 

Another family, the Schultz’s, found out that their beloved aunt was an excellent pianist and had taught students in her youth. They made recordings of her playing the piano and now pass the recordings on through letters accompanying their formal Wills.

An Ethical Will doesn’t have to be long or formal. It can be in the form of a letter, or just a note. It can be a video, or it can be a recording of you simply talking. 

When to Write an Ethical Will

Ethical Wills have a long history and are found in various cultures and traditions. They have become increasingly popular as a way to leave a personal and moral legacy that transcends material possessions. Ethical Wills can be written at any stage of life and can be updated over time to reflect changing perspectives and experiences.

Since you are writing an online Will with FastWill, now is an excellent time to write an Ethical Will imparting any words of wisdom or love that you feel compelled to pass on to your loved ones. You can also use an Ethical Will to explain the choices you made in your WIll if you think that it will help resolve tensions, bring comfort, or add to your thoughts.

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