Ethical Wills

Ethical WillEvery Texas attorney has studied the various estate planning documents, including Wills, Revocable/Irrevocable Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney, Medical Powers of Attorney, and so on in law school. Recently, we have all seen through the power of the media the importance of a Directive to Physicians, which is also known as a Living Will. All of these documents are fairly traditional and are usually included in any estate planning package. However, are those the only estate planning documents you have heard of?  Are you familiar with an instrument known as an Ethical Will?

While an Ethical Will might sound like the newest type of legal document, it isn’t. Actually, it is not new at all. Ethical Wills have been in use for over 3000 years. It is a tradition that can even be found in the Old and New Testament of the Bible.

So you ask, “What does an Ethical Will actually do?”  An Ethical Will is a non-legal document that allows a person to share his or her personal values, life’s lessons, family history, family traditions, expectations for the future, dreams, hopes, personal religion/spiritual ideals, and anything else that might be important to that person with his or her family and friends. Ethical Wills can also provide future generations with an individual’s health history in order to inform descendants of potential health issues they could possibly face down the road.

This document can be written at various stages in life and can be amended at any time throughout an individual’s life. Ethical Wills have been written by couples who are engaged to be married, women and men who are welcoming newborns into their lives, families that are growing in size, middle-aged single and married individuals, individuals facing terminal or life-threatening illness, and so on.

An Ethical Will can be addressed to various people including a spouse or children, to the family, to parents, to a friend, to anyone of importance. A person can also have multiple Ethical Wills that are each unique to the individual it is addressed to. As in any estate planning document, subheadings can help clarify the purpose of each individual section. Some examples of Ethical Will sections include “Family History,” “What You Mean to Me,” “My Definition of Success,” “The Importance of Spirituality,” “The Importance of Humor,” “The Importance of Education,” and “What I will Miss Most About You.”  There are numerous subheadings which can be added into an Ethical Will.

An Ethical Will can be read to family and friends while the individual is still living or it can be read with the traditional estate planning documents at a memorial/funeral service or in private setting.

Ethical Wills allow for an individual to be remembered for what he or she values in life. It allows the person to tell his or her story to his or her loved ones and have it last forever. An Ethical Will can also aid an individual in coming to terms with his or her mortality. It allows for closure by providing his or her family and friends with the framework he or she has lived by and the reasons why. It permits one to covert his or her personal experiences into lessons which can be forever passed down in years to come. In the end, it could potentially become one of the most appreciated contributions to your family and friends.
While Ethical Wills can be drafted at any time in one’s life, numerous lawyers and estate planners recommend 
should be drafted or at the same time the client executes a legal Will. This is because an Ethical Will can be added 
to the traditional estate planning documents. It can actually be the foundation and reasoning behind why a client 
possessions to go to certain individuals at the time of his or her death. An Ethical Will can help the client think 
 through his or her specific bequests and aid in that decision making process of determining “who will get what.”  Therefore, an Ethical Will can be drafted in support of a legal Will by stating the rationale behind a client’s various bequests.

Ethical Wills have become increasingly more popular in recent years. While an Ethical Will is not a legally binding document, it is a way to tell a family and friends how much they mean to a person, and it allows that person to leave a story, a legacy, with his or her name.

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Leigh Hilton is an ACCREDITED ESTATE PLANNER® based in Denton and serving the DFW Metroplex. Areas of practice include:
Wills, Trusts & Estates | Elder Law | Probate Law | Estate Planning