Many people know they should have a “Last Will and Testament” to cover the distribution of all one’s assets after death. Estimates of the percent of Americans who write wills before they die range from 30 to 50 percent. It is a legal document and subject to many regulations. While it is possible to do one without legal counsel, and many templates are available on the internet, if you have any significant property or any complications in your family, you should consult a lawyer, and consider one who specializes in that field of law. They will be able to foresee potential issues with creating a will that you have not considered. Unfortunately, the disposition of assets can cause significant family disruption, and you should ensure you have done the best possible job on your will to minimize that.
Many experts suggest a review of existing wills every five years, or when significant events happen, such as the birth or death of someone who is involved in the will. It is well worth the investment to do it right and ensure your wishes will be observed as you intended.
However, there is another aspect related to this that you should also consider. Ethical wills, or legacy letters, are not legal documents and can be drafted by anyone. It is a way of sharing your values, blessings, life’s lessons, hopes and dreams for the future, and forgiveness with your family, friends and community. They have been in existence for centuries, but few people complete them. They may also be useful in explaining why you left certain material items to certain people, or did not.
You can choose to do an ethical will over a period of time and keep adding to it, or follow one of many templates that you can easily find on the internet and do it over a few days. Obviously, whoever is your last will and testament executor should know about the existence of these documents and where they are. While your ethical will is not as likely to need updating as your legal will, it’s a good idea to do a quick review at the same time as you update the legal one.
While the only real requirement is that ethical wills be written in such a way as to be clear about what you meant, even if not necessarily agreed to by all members of your family, there are members of the Association of Personal Historians who do this type of writing if you need assistance.
Ethical wills form an integral part of your family history, and could be stored within FamilyArc’s secure digital platform if you choose to do so, with suitable security as you deem appropriate. Take advantage of our Private Vault feature for top-level security of important documents with sensitive information, such as legal documents or wills.