An Ethical Will: Lessons For Your Loved Ones

By Brittany Littleton

You have a great deal to share with your loved ones, regardless of how much money you may have to leave to your heirs. Each of us accumulates a wealth of knowledge, experiences and values during our lifetime. An ethical will is a great way to pass on your unique wisdom and can be the most meaningful part of your estate plan.

 What Is An Ethical Will?

An ethical will is not a legally binding document. It is simply a letter – or even a video – in which you communicate values, sentiments or life lessons that you would like to share with your loved ones.

 What Might It Include?

Here are some ideas to help you think about what you might include as you draft your own ethical will.

  • Expressions of love and gratitude;
  • Beliefs and truths that have guided you;
  • Life lessons learned during difficult circumstances;
  • Apologies for times in your life when you feel you might have hurt others;
  • Stories and traditions that you would like preserved for future generations;
  • Explanation of why your property and money are divided up in a certain way;
  • Blessings, hopes and dreams for your children and loved ones.

 What It Probably Shouldn’t Include

Skip the judgments and criticism and instead focus on leaving a sweet legacy of loving words for your family. Think about the impact you hope the document will have and how you want to be remembered when you are gone.

 How To Write An Ethical Will

You do not need to be an accomplished author to write your ethical will. Focus on conveying heartful thoughts that you’d like to share as part of your legacy. It doesn’t have to be written in one sitting – you can add to it and revise it over time or even write it in a journal format over the course of many years.

 When And How Should It Be Shared?

Many people find that the process of drafting their ethical will helps them convey deep feelings or difficult to- express thoughts. If you find that your ethical will brings up things you’d like to discuss with your family, feel free to share it with them during your lifetime. It may draw you closer together. If you decide to share it with your family after you die, it should be kept with your legal papers and other estate planning documents. If you used an attorney to prepare an estate plan, ask the attorney to retain a copy.

I encourage you to commit to writing your ethical will. It will be a powerful process for you now and an inspiration and encouragement for your loved ones to cherish long after you’re gone.

Brittany Littleton owns and operates Littleton Legal. Her practice focuses on business law, estate planning, elder law, trust administration and probate. She is a firm believer that clients are best served when their legal, financial and accounting advisors are working collaboratively to strategize and advocate on their behalf.

A Signature Partner with BA Seniors, Littleton will write a column each month covering issues such as how to avoid probate court, mistakes to avoid in leaving an inheritance or emergency decision documents every senior needs. If you have a question that you would like answered or a topic you would like to see covered, send your thoughts to Sean Simpson at