Ethical Wills: What They Are and Why You Need One

Wills may seem straightforward, but it is crucial that you ensure their legality. Additionally, wills may be subject to litigation if there are reasons to doubt a will’s legitimacy. There are other concerns as well including matters of ethics. So, what is an ethical will and why do you need to include one in your estate plan?

Will Basics

A will is a legal document used to coordinate the distribution of assets and the future of an estate after death. Individuals can designate beneficiaries, choose a Power of Attorney, and decide how the estate will be divided.

A basic will includes:

  • Beneficiaries who will inherit certain assets
  • Designation of an executor who will handle the directions in the will
  • Guardians for minor children
  • Instructions for the division of assets

Wills are crucial because not only do they include provisions for beneficiaries and minors, but they also ensure that the estate is insulated from the worst of probate.

Without a will, an estate could be fragmented during the probate process and beneficiaries may not receive a portion of assets that the deceased intended.

Legal Will vs. Ethical Will

A legal will is the most traditional will and the version that most people picture when thinking about a will. An ethical will however, is designed to pass on intangible assets.

The period after a loved one passes is emotionally charged and many people feel connected to certain items. Ethical wills can resolve situations where a family member may want a specific item.

Intangible assets are things that are either not physical or do not have a quantifiable value. These assets may include things like guiding principles, memories, and spiritual values. In terms of an ethical will, items with significant sentimental value.

These objects may include:

  • Recipes
  • Photographs
  • Clothing items
  • And other sentimental items

These objects and documents can be designated to specific beneficiaries to prevent confusion or bad feelings between family members.

Writing an Ethical Will

When constructing an ethical will, timing is everything. It is important to recognize that items increase in sentiment over time while others may lose value in the same way that physical assets do. It is usually best to write your ethical will after having children or at a time in your life when you feel like there are meaningful contributions to leave behind.

Ethical wills do not have a specific structure. Most wills of this type are written like a formal letter, note, or diary entry. These documents can be personalized as much as you want and may be in any format including a scrapbook, collage, video, presentation, or audio recording. In many ways, the process of drafting an ethical will is just as cathartic and therapeutic for the writer as it is for the beneficiaries.

Ethical wills may be included in an estate plan but are not legal documents. If you do not have an estate plan, consider contacting our experienced attorneys at Dorcey Law Firm.