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What is an Ethical Will?

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What makes a will “ethical?”

Also called a legacy letter, or spiritual letter, an ethical will has very little to do with its heavily-regulated cousin—the Last Will and Testament.

According to Barry Baines, M.D., a hospice physician and author of, Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper, an ethical will, in its simplest form, is, “a way to record and pass on your values, beliefs, faith, life lessons, love and forgiveness.”

Even though the concept of an ethical will has been around for over 3,500 years, few people are aware what one is, or how it differs from a traditional will.

There are no rigid rules that govern the construction of an ethical will. You don’t have to go to a lawyer to have one written up. There are no forms to fill out, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything beyond the sheet of paper it’s on and the pen you use to write it with.

An ethical will can include everything from an account of the family’s history, an important life lesson the person has learned, a list of secret family recipes, a person’s hopes and dreams for their descendants, etc.

There is no hard and fast set of rules governing what must be contained in a person’s ethical will, or even when it should be written.

A common time to write an ethical will is when a person is nearing the end of their life. But, Baines says that people also write ethical wills at key turning points throughout their lives: when they get married, have kids, or become empty nesters.

The Benefits of Discussing Your Family History
Have “The Talk” with Elders: End-of-Life Issue Conversations
How to Cope When You Know Your Elderly Parent is Dying Soon

Ethical Wills Lend Clarity to Caregivers and Serenity to Seniors originally appeared on

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11:54AM PDT on May 30, 2012

This seems like a lovely idea... and one I had not heard of in quite this way before.

8:59AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Many thanks

8:25AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Wow, what a powerful idea!

5:08PM PDT on May 21, 2012

I wrote letters to my family members to put in with my legal will. Asked for them back several months ago as I need to update the letters. Better get to it! Thank you for the inspiration.

10:22PM PDT on May 20, 2012

My father-in-law passed away last September. He left numerous photo albums of people who were unnamed. We have no idea who they are. I regret that we did not look at these photos while he was living, then we would be able to tell our son who his ancestors were. Most of us wait too late to ask these questions.

5:58PM PDT on May 20, 2012

Even just sitting down with your grandmother and her photo album and recording the conversation opens up quite a bit of knowledge even of her childhood friends and the places the family lived.

Thanks for the article.

2:30PM PDT on May 20, 2012

Good info to have. Thanks for the article Anne.

11:31PM PDT on May 19, 2012

My father wrote his family history for a booklet, of course, also briefly mentioning my mother's background history. It could have been far more comprehensive - that's why I think it should not be left till someone is at an advanced age. I really value it because his life experiences were so different to today's world.

3:01PM PDT on May 19, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

2:48PM PDT on May 19, 2012

aww very interesting

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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