Before we pass away, we often find ourselves thinking about what we will leave behind for future generations. While leaving our heirs and inheritance is certainly important to most people, many wonder if anything else can be passed along that is intangible – something that can stick with us for a lifetime. Fortunately, an estate planning document known as the ethical will can be used to remind future generations of valuable lessons already learned.
What Exactly Is An Ethical Will?
An ethical will is a way to share your core values and beliefs, valuable life lessons, burial instructions and other requests and teachings with your heirs. It is a document that allows you to voice your values and express what truly matters most in your life. Wealth passed on to heirs can only last until it is gone, whereas an ethical will or a legacy letter may be one of the most meaningful and cherished gifts you can leave to your loved ones for as long as the documents will exist.
An ethical will is not a legal document, but rather serves as a statement of personal or spiritual values, family history, and life lessons for future generations to come. Writing an ethical will can help to better establish what we value most and see what we truly stand for. By voicing our values and beliefs, we can then take steps to ensure that those values will live through future generations. We can learn a lot about ourselves during the process of writing an ethical will and this document ensures that our stories will live on. After all, there is no one better suited to tell our stories than us. Though tangible assets like money and property are definitely valuable and offer a plethora of benefits to beneficiaries, like most finite resources, they eventually run out. You simply cannot put a price on the value and utility of leaving your heirs an ethical will.
Should I Include an Ethical Will in My Estate Plan?
A well-known pattern commonly referred to as “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” makes the case for the addition of the ethical will. Any generation that accrues a significant amount of wealth shall be referred to as “the first generation” in the wealth cycle. This is the generation that likely possesses a deep-rooted sense of perseverance, diligence, financial literacy, and tenacity. This generation works hard to save money and thus, has a greater appreciation of the value of the dollar. The children of this generation do not have many resources but see their parents work hard to achieve financial success and are motivated to create a better future for themselves. The third generation is usually where an ethical will provides the most utility. Children of this generation usually view the family as financially stable and as having access to enough wealth to take care of basic needs and even a luxurious lifestyle. This generation tends to never experience first-hand the financial hardships of just one generation ago and are likely to squander the family’s wealth in a short period of time. An ethical will may very well be the the document that can provide them with some insight regarding the hard work and dedication of previous generations.
Despite the efforts of parents to teach their young ones certain values that may come in handy later in life, without a tangible reminder of these lessons and values, it is unlikely that these teachings will naturally resonate with future generations. An ethical will by nature can be passed down through endless generations unless the document itself is destroyed.
In short, writing an ethical will can help preserve your wealth through multiple generations to come. It clarifies your goals, values, and overall vision for your estate plan and makes them readily available to your family. Though there is no legal obligation or necessity to have an ethical will in your estate plan, it is best to consider having one early on so that you can make sure that generations down the line have the tools they need to live meaningful and productive lives. Pass down something greater than wealth, something your loved ones can carry with them for the rest of their lives and beyond. If you or a loved one are interested in leaving an ethical will in your estate plan, consult with a licensed estate planning attorney who will guide you through the process of making sure your estate plan is properly drafted for the next generation.