What is an Ethical Will?

We all understand the importance of a Last Will and Testament. A Will allows one to direct the disposition of his or her property after death. However, we all pass on something of even greater worth to our beneficiaries: our thoughts, feelings, values and advice. These special treasures can be preserved in an “Ethical Will.”
Ethical Wills are an ancient tradition, first developed by Jewish families in a document called a Zava’ah. These documents codified family values and wisdom for future generations. An Ethical Will can take on any form, including: an oral statement, a video, a letter, a poem, or a painting. The only requirement is that it is a transmission of an important and heartfelt message.
One day I was giving a talk about estate planning to a local women’s group. I briefly mentioned Ethical Wills. One of the ladies spoke up to support the concept and unfolded a letter she kept in her purse. She shared that the letter was from her late father and he left it for her after he died almost 8 years ago. It moved her so much that she carried it with her ever since. What a tremendous gift he left for his daughter!
There is another good example of an oral Ethical Will from the Star Wars movies. When Yoda lay dying on Dagobah, his last words to Luke included what amounts to an Ethical Will:
When gone am I, the last of the Jedi you will be
The force is strong with your family
Pass on what you have learned
An Ethical Will is a tremendous gift for one’s family. The words of love and wisdom may live on far longer than any material assets that passed under a Last Will and Testament. Further, an Ethical Will may even help to prevent disputes that may arise during the administration of an estate, as it may help beneficiaries focus on the truly important things in life.
We include an Ethical Will Workbook with all of our estate planning packages. You can obtain a copy of it from our website at: https://www.carneydye.com/resources.