At Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, we encourage families or individuals to create an estate plan, consisting of a will or a revocable living trust so your loved ones know how you want your assets distributed. An interesting off shoot from traditional estate planning is an ethical will. Have you ever heard of one?
An ethical will (also called a “legacy letter”) is a document designed to pass ethical values or life lessons from one generation to the next. They have been around for centuries and come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Rabbis and Jewish laypeople wrote ethical wills during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, Dr. Andrew Weil, a noted author and doctor of integrative medicine who has written books on health and aging, promotes ethical wills as a gift of spiritual health to your family. Leaving such a document explains to your loved ones their family and cultural background, ethical and spiritual values, life lessons and experiences, and your hopes for future generations.They are becoming more prevalent. Even President Obama has written a legacy letter to his daughters.
There are a number of sources to help you write an ethical will, which could be in the form of a letter, an audio CD, or a DVD. Common themes are personal values and beliefs, spiritual values, wisdom to be passed on, love, forgiveness, and the legacy you leave for the next generation. You also may want to explain why you did certain things in your life, why you chose a certain charity, why you chose certain beneficiaries or made certain distributions, history your family may not know about you, or how your life experiences shaped your life.
An ethical letter is of course personal. We can assist you with estate planning documents to specify your wishes regarding your personal assets but creating an ethical will or legacy letter is something only you can do. It could become the most cherished asset you leave your loved ones.