What is an Ethical Will?

November 6, 2020   -   , ,

With origins dating back thousands of years to ancient Judaism, an ethical will is an intimate document containing your personal legacy. It’s designed with your friends and family in mind, and it’s usually shared after your death along with more formal end-of-life processes.

In this article, we will discuss the following:

  1. A basic understanding of ethical wills
  2. The legal standing
  3. The importance of creating one
  4. How to create it
  5. How to ensure the right people see it

Best of all, you can start work on this document today!

The Definition of an Ethical Will

In Jewish tradition, the term for “ethical will” in Hebrew is tzava’ot. It’s your private collection of thoughts, stories, and reflections about your life and what you hold dear in life. When you share it with the people who are most important to you, the wisdom and experience you’ve accumulated over the years can live on forever.

In contemporary parlance, think of an ethical will as a last will and testament for your ethics and beliefs. This is why some people refer to this as a “legacy letter.” Thus, instead of chronicling who gets what among your physical assets, you are passing on your emotional, psychological, and spiritual assets to the next generation.

Is an Ethical Will a Legal Document?

No. There is nothing legally binding about your legacy letter. No matter what you might say, write, assemble, or record, it still will not stand up in a court of law as being an official record. At best, it can supplement official documents.

You don’t have to complete one as part of the formal end-of-life paperwork recommended by legal and medical experts. However, it’s a pleasant and soothing process many people are adopting alongside the more technical aspects of estate planning.

Why is it Important to Create an Ethical Will?

A growing number of palliative care professionals are revitalizing the ancient practice of creating an ethical will. They believe that addressing matters of both the soul and the body is an important way to prepare for the end of life. Just like you want to have your physical affairs together when you pass, it is important to bring some finality to your life and share those sentiments with those who remain after you.

The legacy letter helps you and your loved ones in three distinct ways.

1. Provides Closure

Most of us have various loose ends swirling about in everyday life. Wrapping up everything with a sense of purpose and a defined ending comforts your soul. For many people, this involves admissions, revelations, and requests for pardon from people they’ve wronged, but it can also be an opportunity to talk about topics that are often verboten in polite company.

We do advise caution with this step, as the person receiving your legacy letter after you pass will not have a way to respond to you. Thus, you must be as clear, direct, and unambiguous as possible. An ethical will is as much about the people receiving your words as it is about you speaking them.

2. Delivers Clarity

Because of the technical nature of your average last will and testament, they can be cold, impersonal documents. An ethical will serves as your opportunity to reveal and explain the human reasons behind the choices you made. In this way, you can help your friends and family understand why you did things a certain way, especially when you speak with care and compassion about the matters at hand.

3. Offers Comfort

Your last will and testament will be read once and with lawyers present. Your ethical will is designed to be viewed, read, and listened to over and over again by your loved ones. It’s filled with your personality and perspectives about the life you lead. Your family and friends can return to it over and over to learn from you, think about you, and receive important advice. Your words can heal wounds, give strength, and deliver guidance long after you’re gone.

How Do I Create an Ethical Will?

To be frank, there is no one set method or process for creating one. We’ve seen well-produced videos, lengthy letters to a group, a set of letters with individual recipients, recorded messages, and more. What matters is that the format is comfortable for you, since you’re the one making the legacy letter. 

1. Determine What’s Important to You

Let’s return to an earlier statement: this is a document about you that’s made for others. Thus, an integral part of any ethical will involve you figuring out what you will discuss. This wide range of potential topics can be centered around three concepts:

  1. Thoughts about the past
  • Family stories
  • Recipes
  • Confessions
  • Accomplishments
  • Regrets
  1. Thoughts in the present
  • Beliefs
  • Practices
  • Personal messages of gratitude
  • Apologies
  1. Thoughts for the future
  • Advice
  • Personal wishes to individuals
  • Information
  • Private requests

And that’s just for starters. The contents of your legacy letter depend entirely upon you, what you want to say, and who will hear it.

2. Find Your Format

Not only have we seen people use several different mediums for creating their ethical will, but we’ve also seen multiple ways to deliver the material. These include:

  • Personal letters
  • Comedy roasts
  • Heartfelt videos
  • Songs
  • Speeches
  • Sermons
  • Depositions
  • Interviews

The possibilities are nearly endless, but what matters is that you choose what’s natural for you and the people listening.

3. Take the Time

We recommend that you do NOT wait until the absolute end of your life before creating your legacy letter. In fact, it’s something you should do well in advance of your passing. 

  • Focus on what you want to say and who will listen.
  • Create a script for yourself and don’t go off the cuff. 
  • Spend time with the subjects and people who matter to you, because they might want to revisit this several times throughout the years.

Your message and your recipients deserve your concentrated time and effort, not some slap-dash affair.

How Do I Share My Ethical Will?

Unlike legal documents, there is no formal presentation of the legacy letter to your loved ones. However, that means you can do so in a way that makes the most sense to them. Some people arrange to play the video during the wake or memorial. Others plan to distribute personal letters after your body has been laid to rest and the more serious aspects of death have concluded. 

But as you might notice, you’re dead when all this stuff should happen. So how do you make it work?

That’s the beauty of The Postage. With our intuitive platform and bank-level security, you can store documents, videos, and other essential media online and then arrange to distribute it at a time you deem important. You can also assign specific delegates to your account who can help with your ethical will at the right juncture.

You can also store a host of documents and file types surrounding your end-of-life and estate planning in a single location. With this feature, your delegates and loved ones can access them when they need them most.

Ultimately, your ethical will shares who you are with the people who matter most to you. And that is definitely a legacy worth leaving.

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