Summary: An ethical will is a non-legal document you can use to share life lessons, memorialize personal stories, and communicate values to future generations. It is flexible in format and unique to the author.
An ethical will, also known as a last letter or a legacy letter, is a non-legal document you can use to share life lessons and personal stories, communicate your values and hopes, or connect with future generations. Traditions surrounding ethical wills are hundreds of years old. Historically, the document has consisted of a letter to family, friends, and other loved ones. However, the modern ethical will can also include photos, videos, poems, clothing, recipes, or other personal and sentimental items. The structure is flexible, and the content is unique to each person writing it.
There is no definite time to write an ethical will; it is whatever time feels appropriate for you. Some may choose to compose their ethical will after a major life event such as marriage, the birth of their children, or when their children move out of the house for the first time. Others may want to write their ethical will later in life, so as to share family stories and to preserve life experiences.
To get started, think about the most significant moments in your life – the ones you would like to preserve for your family and share with future generations. You can write the ethical will over a period of time, as ideas come to you or as you reflect on certain learning experiences. Or, you compose the document in one sitting. It is totally up to you. In addition to memorializing life lessons, personal stories, and hopes for future generations, writing an ethical will can also benefit the author themselves. By contemplating one’s own values, experiences, and decisions, you can actually learn more about yourself and your own goals in life. An ethical will can indirectly become a tool for self-reflection and self-improvement. During times of hardships or stress, writing about our lives can be an effective coping mechanism.
Once you have composed your ethical will and have collected all of its components, the next step is to safeguard this estate planning tool. You can keep your ethical will with your other estate planning documents (in a bank safe deposit box, in a secured home safe, with your personal representative). It is also important to make sure your estate executor knows that the document exists and how to access it.
An ethical will is an excellent means of preserving memories and imparting intergenerational wisdom. It can also improve family dynamics and serve as a healthy exercise for the author. If you have any questions about ethical wills, or would like to schedule an estate planning consultation, contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via our online form.
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