Making an Ethical Will

Making an Ethical Will

A last will and testament allows you to distribute the material wealth you have accumulated in your lifetime. But you most likely have also accumulated a lot of practical, intellectual and spiritual wealth, and it is possible to share that with your family as well.

An ethical will is a message to one's children or heirs in which you share your thoughts, advice and wisdom. It is not legally binding, but it allows you to pass on something that may be worth more than the money and property you leave.

People have been writing ethical wills for thousands of years, but only recently have begun writing them again.

Items Included

Some of the things people have put in their ethical wills are:

  • explanations of why they left their property as they did;
  • lessons they learned during their life;
  • beliefs they have found to be true in life;
  • advice they wish to leave their children or grandchildren;
  • requests that people grieve, but enjoy life;
  • acknowledgement of love for family members;
  • forgiveness to those who hurt them;
  • requests for forgiveness from those they hurt;
  • special stories or anecdotes from their life; and
  • family history that should be passed on.


An ethical will should not be used to get even with people, to try to cause guilt, or say anything too outlandish. If someone is not happy with your legal will (the one giving away property), he or she may use your unusual ethical will to argue that you were not competent to make a will. If a judge agrees with him or her, your legal will could be thrown out.

The ethical will is not only a message to others—it is a framework for gathering your thoughts and contemplating your past and your future. There are many points in a person's life when he or she might consider writing an ethical will. Some of them are:

  • upon becoming engaged or married;
  • upon the birth of a new child;
  • at the death of a parent or grandparent;
  • at retirement; and
  • near the end of life.


An ethical will can be anything from a short, handwritten note to a long video. Some people put together a book and include photographs. Others save it on CD or in the cloud.

When using some sort of technology to make your ethical will, remember that by the time you die, certain formats may have become obsolete. In twenty or thirty years, your family might not be able to read or watch it. If you do not update your ethical will to a new format over the years, you might want to leave a hard copy as well as a digital copy.