The most common vehicle of asset transfer in estate planning is the last will, and everyone is aware of what this document is intended to achieve. In addition to the last will most modern estate plans will also include advance health care directives, and a living will. What a living will does is elucidate your health care preferences so that they are known should you fall into an incapacitated state and become unable to express them at a time it is needed. The issue that is at the core of living wills is usually going to be life-support systems and whether or not you would want to be kept alive via the use of artificial means should you fall into a terminal state.
There is however another type of will that is much less commonly understood, and it is called the ethical will. Ethical wills have been part of the Jewish tradition going back to biblical times. These documents are used to express thoughts and feelings that you would like to share with your loved ones after you pass away. Traditionally these renderings would include your spiritual and moral values, and the “rules to live by” that you yourself saw fit to honor throughout your life. Ethical Wills are not written by your attorney, but rather by you.
However, the document need not be strictly instructive and didactic. Ethical wills are today recommended by many of those who work with our elders as a way to “get things off your chest” as it were and let your family know things that you may have never said out loud. You can ask for forgiveness for any transgressions that you feel as though you may have been guilty of, and perhaps offer explanations to family members with regard to things that you have done that have been misunderstood.
An ethical will can be a priceless addition to your estate plan, and composing it can be a labor of love that may have more lasting meaning to your loved ones than anything else that you bequeath to them.
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