An Ethical Will is also known as a Forever Letter or an Eternity Letter. It has its roots in Jewish tradition, where it dates back thousands of years.
An Ethical Will is much different than a legal will. The legal will expresses your wishes for the distribution of your assets and possessions. It's legally enforceable and can be done on your own (through a kit, an attorney, etc.). An Ethical Will shares your values, wisdom, and love. It can also be a way of asking for forgiveness. It can express thoughts and emotions. It's not generally a place for anger or revealing family secrets. (That can be done with a separate letter, and I highly recommend that they are kept separate.)
Unlike a legal will, an Ethical Will can be written at any time and can be shared while you are very much alive (if you choose to do so). In fact, it's a good idea to write an Ethical Will at various milestones in your life: milestone birthdays (20, 30, 40, etc.), upon retirement, when you become a parent/aunt/uncle/grandparent, when a life-altering event happens (such as a major career change, gender change/affirmation/realignment, LGBTQ announcement/affirmation/reveal, an accident, or a health issue), or whenever you feel moved to write one. Some people choose to write an Ethical Will each year during a holiday or their birthday.
An Ethical Will shares your values, wisdom, and love. It can also be a way of asking for forgiveness. It can express thoughts and emotions that are difficult to say out loud.
If you aren't sure what to write or how to start, I would be happy to help you. Please use my contact form to request a free consultation.
A Legacy Letter of Instruction is a necessary document that is a labor of love. It provides guidance and reassurance for your family during a difficult time, and everyone should have one.
A Legacy Letter of Instruction is like a compass, giving directions to your family if you are unable to communicate with them. It's not legally enforceable, but it is full of information to let your family to know what to do if you are unable to provide the answers. It's an estate-planning document that conveys informal details that wouldn't be included or perhaps would not be appropriate for a will.
Here are a few things that can be conveyed in your Legacy Letter of Instruction:
Personal messages, life lessons, and blessings are more appropriate for an Ethical Will, but the two documents can be combined if you'd like.
There are other things you can state, such as bequeathing small items that might not be included in a legal/formal will. You should not include items with great sentimental value, since that should be included in your legal will. The Letter of Instruction is a document to accompany a legal will, not something to replace a legal will.
If you would like help with creating a Legacy Letter of Instruction or an Ethical Will for your family, please use my contact form to request a consultation.
L. Shay Bradham is a Family History Preservationist specializing in Legacy Letters, Legacy Books, and Ethical Wills.
Having a Will means that your assets are protected. You control who gets what. Your last wishes are honored.
But what about you? Your values, your beliefs, your hopes, your dreams? And, yes, your regrets? Those things are what make you, well, you. How long will those things remain?
I lost two grandparents when I was pretty young. I have some memories of them, but they are fading. I lost those grandparents decades ago, and my kids never met them. How I wish I had a way to learn about what they valued, what their hopes and dreams were, what they were proud of accomplishing, and what they wished they had done differently.
Another thing to consider: your observations today are living history. Future generations would love to know what it's like to live through these times, just like we are looking back at written accounts from people who lived through the Pandemic of 1918.
Your Legacy Letters are an important part of your legacy. Please contact me so we can work together to preserve your legacy.