Sharing values and family histories to younger generations is something that takes place over the course of a lifetime. However, it can also be put into an ethical will to create a more cohesive message.
For centuries, people have used ethical wills or legacy letters to share the values and belief systems of individuals and families to the next generation. While the form may change from oral traditions to videos, they are used to clarify the wisdom and lessons learned, says WTOP in the article, “What to know about ethical wills.”
An ethical will provides you with a sense of an individual’s personal life lessons shared as part of their legacy. They detail critical moments in a family’s history to inform and inspire generations to come. In contrast, a last will and testament gives instructions on how your financial assets are to be distributed.
An ethical will can complement a legal will with information you’d share if you were alive. Although ethical wills aren’t legally binding, they’re increasingly used to convey a person’s hopes and dreams for their family and to help explain decisions made in a legal will. When read with the will, an ethical will may help reduce potential conflict within the family.
Here are some situations when you might consider an ethical will:
- Parents can write a letter to a newborn or newly adopted child expressing their hopes and dreams for the child and the values they want to instill in the child’s life;
- When a child marries, parents can stress important family traditions to be carried on in their own family;
- Some families note the desire to preserve and pass down family photo albums or legacy writings;
- An ethical will can be used to explain the source of the family’s wealth or to communicate values concerning the use of that wealth;
- When an individual has a significant life event (particularly one that impacted the whole family), she may want to communicate how that event changed her life and perspective; and
- Parents may choose to write a letter thanking their children for the joyful memories and accomplishments they’ve shared as a family.
An ethical will is usually a handwritten letter addressed to children and grandchildren. Many begin writing an ethical will with notes about core beliefs and some of the events in the person’s life that led to those beliefs. You may also consider expressing gratitude for important people in your life, which may include family members and close friends.
An ethical will or legacy letter is a deeply personal communication and should not be done without thought. Sharing your personal life journey with family members will give them a greater sense of belonging to something larger than their own immediately family. Gather your thoughts and think about what is most important for you to share. The process of creating this document may be a more profound experience than you expect. Give yourself the time to do it right.
Reference: WTOP (November 28, 2018) “What to know about ethical wills”