Think back to a beloved RELATIVE who has passed away. If you could transport back in time and communicate with him or her, what questions would you have? What values were important to them? What do they regret in life, who do they seek forgiveness from, and who would they wish to forgive? We will never know—unless your deceased relative left a document behind known as an ethical will.
Unlike a legal will that is an outline of who receives your worldly possessions, an ethical will is a heartfelt expression of what truly matters most in your life. The practice of leaving an ethical will has existed for centuries, back to the first recordings of history. Such directives were commonly used by pharaohs in Egypt and Old Testament patriarchs to convey wisdom, values and instruction to successors in managing their kingdoms.
So what makes a will “ethical”? Today ethical wills often take the form of a written preamble to family, designed to accompany more formal estate planning documents. It can also be called a legacy letter or spiritual letter and has very little to do with the more formal estate planning documents.
There are no rules governing the structure of an ethical will. It can include anything that you feel is important to pass on. Some have been preserved by video to pass on instructions to the next generation. Many find this is also a time to express gratitude or simply forgiveness or understanding. Many will use the ethical will to back up their values by including charitable giving in their formal estate planning and explaining why it is so important to them to donate to the charity. Many will set up college savings in their formal estate planning and express to the grandchildren why they feel college is important. Some will give household items as gifts with special notes for each item. If you have a special-needs child, this is a good way to let caregivers know what the child likes and dislikes and what their favorite things are.
There are no special forms to complete, and it may cost you little to nothing to create an ethical will. Many people wait until they are diagnosed with a life-threatening affliction before writing one, but the best time to do it is now.
The most touching ethical will I have seen was taped by a young father to his children explaining his values, why he lived his life the way he did, and what was important to him about the way he wanted his children raised. He was killed in an auto accident, and this video remains the most treasured gift that he passed on. Do not wait until it is too late—take the time to create a heartfelt treasure for your own family. iBi
Daryl Dagit is the market manager and financial advisor at the Peoria office of Savant Capital Management. He can be reached at (309) 693-0300.