“An ethical will—also referred to as a legacy letter—can be a valuable complement to your legal will, as well as a wonderful gift to your family or other loved ones.”
When an estate planning attorney suggests that clients create ethical wills, they aren’t asking the clients to create another last will and testament. Instead, it is to create something that can explain their intentions to their loved ones. According to the article “How to create an ethical will” from Herald Net, a ethical will is also known as a legacy letter.
This can be a kind and loving gift to your family, since it allows you to express your feelings and thoughts. If you’re not accustomed to sharing your feelings, that will make it even more special to your loved ones. It’s an opportunity to say all the things you never felt comfortable saying. You may want to express your wishes, regrets and gratitude. You may also want to pass long the life lessons that have been valuable for you.
An ethical will also provides an opportunity for you to explain how you came to the decisions you did about your will and the money and possessions you are passing along. You might want to explain why a certain child is being given a piece of artwork or why another is being left assets in a trust and not an outright gift.
If you are more comfortable with making a video, you can also do that. An audio or video recording often becomes a treasured piece of family history, since it allows generations who may have never met you to see and hear you.
Start by writing down some notes about what matters to you and what you think you might want to share with the family. Take your time. Remember you aren’t writing the Great American Novel but creating a gift of love.
Once you’ve gathered your thoughts, move on to the next draft. Once it’s complete, to keep this document safe and in a secure location. If you have a waterproof and fireproof safe where you keep important papers in the home, the ethical will should also go in there. Remember that safe deposit boxes are sealed at death, so if you want your loved ones to read this, it should not go in the safe deposit box.
One last thought—some people like to share their ethical will with family and friends, while they are still living. This allows them to enjoy their reactions and have a discussion about whatever they have shared in the document. Others prefer to wait until after they have passed. It’s a very personal decision.
Talk with your estate planning attorney about how the ethical will works with your estate plan. Make sure there’s nothing in the ethical will that contradicts your last will and testament. That could create problems for the family.
Reference: Herald Net (Nov. 6, 2029) “How to create an ethical will”