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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

What Is an Ethical Will?

What Is an Ethical Will

Most people are familiar with a traditional will, which is a legal document explaining the distribution of an estate upon an individual’s death. An ethical will, on the other hand, communicates non-material possessions one would like to pass on, such as wisdom, apologies, advice, principles, stories from the past, and hopes for the future. Sometimes referred to as forever letters or legacy letters, ethical wills have an ancient religious history rooted in the importance of reflecting on one’s life and recording beliefs.

Why Have an Ethical Will

Taking a step back from materialism and pondering what is truly meaningful facilitates a sense of fulfillment and contentedness. An ethical will ensures that loved ones have a permanent record of the values you always worked to instill and that your presence is kept alive for the years to come. Writing can be cathartic for anyone struggling to work through transitional or traumatic events, so legacy writing can also be especially therapeutic for those nearing the end of life.

How to Create an Ethical Will

Ethical wills have no set format, so you can write it however feels natural. Many people prefer to organize their message as a letter, addressing a single note to their loved ones collectively or several separate letters individually. For some, an informal journal approach might be a less intimidating way to get thoughts and feelings documented. If you struggle to come up with the right words, consider including favorite quotes, lyrics, or Bible verses. Don’t limit yourself to writing, either; videos are also a popular option.

Begin by considering what you want future generations to know about you and about the world you live in. What were some of the happiest and the most challenging times in your life? What do you know now that you wish you would’ve known sooner? What do you find to be life’s greatest gifts? Keep in mind that you can create your ethical will at any point, and you can always go back to make changes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given many of us additional perspective and especially, additional time to reflect. A hundred years from now, generations could be reading about this period in history just as we’ve read about the Spanish Flu and other serious outbreaks. What would you like your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know about this time? What has it taught you? What are the things you’ve missed doing the most? Do you have a list of things you plan to do as soon as it’s safe again? Capturing your thoughts and your insights could be very interesting for your family to read about.

More: Interested in hearing more about the importance of ethical wills and legacy writing? Check out Scott Zucker’s TEDx Talk, “Why ethical wills are the greatest gifts of love and how to create one.”

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