The Importance of an Ethical Will: Leaving a Legacy Beyond Assets

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If you follow me, you know I often discuss how estate planning is not just about assets but also about the lessons you want to leave behind for your heirs. Unlike a legal will, which transfers your assets and property, an ethical will is designed to pass on guiding principles and memories.

Christine and I recently attended an Ethical Will workshop, which made me pause and reflect. Although I often discuss legacy with my clients, I have never completed my ethical will. Determined to be different from the shoemaker without shoes, I created mine.

What is an Ethical Will?

An ethical will dates back to biblical times. In Deuteronomy 32:46–47, Moses instructs the people to educate their children. Although its roots are based on Jewish tradition, it is used by people of all faiths.

The document communicates your personal story to your family, shares your thoughts and memories of your life, and details your accomplishments and values. It can also be a tool for distributing personal property with little financial value but great sentimental worth.

Examples of Property in an Ethical Will:

Family photographs
Recipes (Christine included her grandmother’s bean salad and her mother’s chicken soup recipes)
Items of clothing
Other objects with personal, though not commercial, value
Format of an Ethical Will

An ethical will can take any format you choose. For ours, we picked some questions and wrote our responses.

Here are Some Prompts:

How do you want to be remembered?
How did you receive your name?
What are your values?
What books did you enjoy growing up, and did any impact your life?
How did you decide on your career?
Who were your mentors?

If you want more prompts, just ask. We have a good list (after all, my wife is a coach and asks questions all day).

At the end of the day, we are here to pass on our knowledge to the next generation. An Ethical Will is a great tool to help you do this.

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