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Ethical Wills


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An Ethical Will passes on your beliefs, the lessons you've learned, family history, your hopes and wishes for the people to whom it is addressed and anything else you want the people you care about most to know. It's your chance to record as much of your autobiogarphy as you wish as well as your life philosophy. 

According to a study conducted for the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, non-financial leave-behinds such as ethical wills were 10 times more important to people's potential heirs than the financial aspects of a legacy. (For additional reasons to write an ethical will, click here.)

Since it is not legally binding like a Last Will and Testament, an Ethical Will:

  • Is as unique as the person writing it.
  • Can be in any form, and include anything and everything, you wish.
  • Can just be a letter to a child.
  • Can be handwritten, typed, stored on a computer, spoken into a recorder, recorded on video or be multimedia.
  • Can be humorous or serious.
  • Can be short or long or anywhere in between.
  • Can include ordinary writing, pictures, photos, songs, poems, art or anything you wish.
  • Could be a compilation video, a scrapbook with annotations or a series of letters. 

An Ethical Will doesn't have to be time consuming to create. A few well-stated paragraphs can be just as meaningful as many pages of writing.

If the message you leave is from the heart, even spelling and grammatical mistakes won't matter to the people who read it.

To assist putting together an ethical will, see:

When thinking about where to store your ethical will:

  • Many people give Ethical Wills to their loved ones while alive. They find it opens room for discussion and deep communication. A discussion can also trigger memories or clarifications that you may want to add to the Ethical Will. 
  • If you would prefer, you can leave your Ethical Will to be read later. If so, store it in a safe, fire-proof place that you can get to easily (so you can review it periodically to see if there are additions you want to make). Let the person who will handle your estate or another trusted person know where it is stored and what you want done with it. (Include the location on your My Document Inventory list.)

If the idea of putting together an Ethical Will prompts you to think about going a step further and writing a memoir, you may get the added benefit of regaining a spirit and confidence that may have decreased over the years. Rethinking old failures can help work through long-suppressed traumas. If help is needed in writing a memoir,  there is help available. For tips about writing a memoir, click here.


  • If there are some thoughts you want to pass on now, and others later, you can write two Ethical Wills.
  • While considering an Ethical Will, also consider writing a Family Medical Tree which includes any medical conditions you and any relatives have had. This can be valuable information for your family for generations of your family.
  • An alternative to an Ethical Will is an edited transcript from "Dignity Therapy" sessions.  During meetings with a trained therapist, you will be asked about your life, feelings, memories and hopes for your family. At the end of the sessions, you get an edited transcript. You can find a dignity therapist through the support services department at the medical facility at which you are receiving health care.

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