Ethical Will: Leaving Behind the Wealth of Life

Across the United States, ethical wills have become a growing estate planning tool used to ensure legacies for generations to come.

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Many Americans are beginning to realize there may be a gap in their estate plan. Sure, long-term care insurance, a living will, a regular will, and other important estate documents are essential to a comprehensive plan. But how do you make known your wishes for the financial legacy you leave behind?

A growing estate planning tool being emphasized by religious leaders, estate planners and financial professionals is the ethical will. You sit down, talk about your experiences in life, your family history, relatives, interesting stories, lessons you’ve learned, and finally, what you’d like to see done with the assets you leave behind. They are not legally binding documents, but they serve as a reminder. Numerous books are available on the topic, which can help youformulate an idea of what exactly you want to say and how you’ll say it.

In a recent Harris Interactive poll of 1,200 Americans aged 40 to 59, 77% of those surveyed said that knowing exactly their parent’s values was very important, while only 10% said it was important that they inherited financial assets from their parents.

More and more financial professionals are advising clients to prepare ethical wills during the estate planning process. An ethical will is seen as an all-encompassing moral vision for the legal and financial documents you’ve prepared. It can save time and hassle, as well as heart-break, for relatives wanting to learn more about your life.

But it’s also about making sure generations to come can turn to you for advice and wisdom, even if they’ve never even met you. As families grow, so do the stories, the memories and the struggles. Those stories eventually begin tofall through the cracks, long-lost relatives fade into history and things are forgotten. An ethical will sheds light on the past. It keeps the stories and the memories alive. Most importantly, it leaves behind an example of the type of life you lived, and what you want your loved ones to know.

An ethical will is certainly not a new concept. The Bible makes references to several cases of ethical wills being passed on in some form or another. But with more and more people expected to become retirees in the next few decades, ethical wills are quickly taking their place alongside legal and financial documents in the planning process. There is more opportunity than ever before to team up with a financial professional during the estate planning process and make sure your values, lessons and wishes are known.

The only question is: What are you going to say?