A typical estate plan includes, among other documents, a Health Care Proxy which guides the appointed agent in making decisions about end of life care. This document, however, is strictly legal in nature and does not allow the principal to express any other thoughts and wishes.
Many who take the steps to establish an estate plan ruminate over how to communicate matters important to them other than those strictly financial. This may be done by an Ethical Will.
Unlike a "living will" or "last will and testament," an Ethical Will isn't a legally binding document. It could be a letter—ranging from half a page to a bound book—or a video recording, addressed to those parties with whom you wish to share it. There are no rules governing what goes into it, or when the contents should be shared with the heirs, but the idea behind it is simple: Convey values, not valuables.
Ethical Wills are becoming more common as a way to express non-legal thoughts. It is a letter or document in which you can set out other things that are or have been important to you during your life.
The Ethical Will is written for the benefit of the heirs, but the process can be very cathartic for the author as well. The author has the opportunity to reflect on his life in ways he might otherwise never do.
Ethical Wills may take many forms. One verson might be more formal, and include any or all of the following items, or any others not listed here with are important to you:
Your history, past and present.
Your earliest memories and childhood.
Your teenage years.
Early Adult years.
Your later years
Personal Values and beliefs
At different points of your life, and why?
What values resonate with you?
What values are most important to you?
Who taught you these values?
What values do you wish to see in others around you?
What values do you wish to leave to others?
Your hopes for the future
Hopes and dreams for loved ones
Family traditions to be continued
How to help others
How to do good in the world?
How to make a difference?
How to find peace
Life lessons and achievements
Growth from losses and failures
Achievements and accomplishments
Gratitude: what are you thankful for, and why?
Advice to your family and friends
Personal values and beliefs
Any closing thoughts
Another version may be more informal, and simply be an enumeration of things you would want others to remember about you.
In simplest form, an Ethical Will talks about quality of life issues, what constitutes a “good death”, and when that good death should be allowed to happen. It provides guidance to your Health Care Agent which, in the context of a grave or terminal condition, expresses at what point you feel your quality of life would be so compromised, or non-existent, so that you wish further treatment to be discontinued. In making such decisions, you might discuss with your doctor, and/or your loved ones, what fears you have, what your priorities are,
Ultimately, it can be whatever you choose it to be. It may provide history, thoughts, feelings and hopes about your life and those you hold dear. is a gift to your loved ones.