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The Life Transition Blog

Consider Creating an Ethical Will


A great deal of time and attention often go into creating your “end of life documents” such as your will, health care directive, or durable power of attorney. However, more and more people are creating a non-legal document to add to their “end of life” portfolio, an ethical will. The ethical will is an ancient tradition, the purpose of which was and is to transmit wisdom to future generations.

An ethical will, unlike a formal legal will, is not designed to transfer your property to your heirs. Rather, an ethical will’s purpose is to allow you to share your thoughts, feelings, and hopes for the future with those whom you care about. There is no right or wrong way to construct your ethical will, and no topics that you must, or must not, include. Some people focus on spiritual matters; others on hopes and dreams for future generations. Still others use their ethical will as a vehicle to forgive others, or to ask for forgiveness.

Writing an ethical will allows you to leave a highly personal legacy for your loved ones, and in the process, you just might learn something about yourself. For some people, the process of writing an ethical will allows them to reflect on their life and to find meaning where perhaps they didn’t see it before. It might help you articulate what you really stand for, what’s really important to you.

If the idea of creating an ethical will appeals to you, you might be wondering how to get started. There are as many approaches to the process as there are people and you have to find one that works well for you. Some people prefer to start with an outline or prompts of topics to include. If you fall into this camp, you might want to visit www.ethicalwill.com or one of the numerous other online resources where you can see examples and structures of ethical wills. On the other hand, some people will prefer to start writing and see where it takes them. This approach works well too. You might also find a workshop where you can work with others who are also interested in writing an ethical will.

The process of creating an ethical will might actually help you to make other types of estate planning and end-of life decisions. For example, the process of thinking about things you wish to say in your ethical will might help you to clarify how you want to distribute your worldly possessions. Or, it might help you to conclude what type of funeral or celebration of your life you do, or don’t, want. Most people find that their ethical will takes shape over time, and rarely is it completed in one sitting. And, there’s nothing wrong with making changes or additions over time. Your ethical will is a living document as long as you are alive.
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