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What Is an Ethical Will?

You have heard the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It’s also been said, “Where there’s a will, there are relatives.” When a person passes on, he or she leaves all material goods behind. Without a legal will, there can be confusion and inconvenience when sorting out those goods. But there is more than possessions to leave behind for your loved ones.

It can also explain the intentions behind your legal will (without contradicting any elements of the legal will). It can be very satisfying to write and provide closure.

Writing an Ethical Will allows you to pass down your personal story to your family, share your thoughts and memories about your life, and leave your accomplishments and values behind in a concrete form. What an opportunity to influence future generations with something more valuable than material possessions!

You can begin your ethical will by articulating what you value most in life, reflecting on your personal experiences, and thinking about the decisions you’ve made. This is a personal love gift to those left behind, as well as future generations. It is also an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. Since there are no legal requirements and guidelines, you can be as free as you want, and can revise it any time you like.

Ethical Wills can also be a tool for explaining the intentions behind your legal will, in case there would be misunderstandings or conflicts. It is also a means of distributing personal property that has little financial value. Examples of the type of property that might be included in an Ethical Will are:

  • family photographs
  • recipes
  • items of clothing
  • toys, souvenirs, and hobby and craft items
  • small pets
  • other objects with great personal (but not necessarily commercial) value

Think about the most significant events, moments, and experiences in your life. What happy memories would you like to share with your family? What were your most challenging moments? What would you like them to know about your hopes for their futures? How have they changed your life by being a part of it? Your Ethical Will could be a good place to include an apology or confession that you were never able to communicate. You can also start your Ethical Will by telling stories that were passed on to you, that you would like to pass on to future generations.

Ethical Wills have no standard form or structure, so feel free to personalize it. It can be a formal written letter, an informal note, or a diary. You can assemble a scrapbook or a collage, make a video or audio recording, create a PowerPoint presentation, write a poem or a song, or choose any other form that would be most comfortable and natural for you.

If you need legal advice in managing an estate, trust, other elder law issue or veteran’s benefits, the Law Office of Scott C. Painter can help. We specialize in elder law issues, including nursing home planning, guardianship, wills, trusts, estates, veteran’s benefits, and other related legal matters. Attorney Scott Painter is CELA® certified under the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF).

A call to us is free, and the best advice is to act now to educate yourself about your options. Waiting to seek legal counsel may limit your options and be costly. Call now for your free consultation at 610-378-5140, or visit for more information.