Ethical wills, also known as legacy letters, are legally non-binding communications to younger generations that impart learned wisdom and life lessons, family history, affection and any other message that an author might wish to convey. Importantly, they are separate and apart from a financial legacy and a formal, legal estate plan directing the division of assets. To the extent they concern money or financial wealth at all (and no topic is required or really off-limits), they might express an appreciation and gratitude for the effort and work of earlier generations, and the author’s views on financial stewardship. Regardless of the topics that may be included, what is truly front and center in an ethical will is the personal link between one generation and the next (and even the next and the next). They are a way to pass on a person’s intangible wealth, providing something personal and lasting.
An ethical will is often written as a letter, but there is no one “right” way to do it. For instance, instead of a letter, an ethical will could take the form of an audio or video recording, a memoir, or even a bullet point list. The form is entirely up to the author, as is the content. Some common topics for ethical wills include fondest memories, challenges that the author has overcome and lessons learned, details concerning family history, and affection. Others are the author’s hopes and dreams for loved ones, explanations of decisions, or even favorite quotes, books or movies. The only messages that authors are really urged to avoid are negative messages that might tend to chastise, shame or attempt to control the recipients. Negative messages are considered to be outside the spirit and intent of ethical wills.
There are many resources that can help guide the creation of an ethical will, including a variety of books, professional coaches and facilitated workshops. Additionally, some law firms are now offering ethical will services in addition to traditional trust and estate planning. These types of resources can be very beneficial to an author and provide great frameworks to think about when crafting an ethical will – something to get a person started and keep them on track. Ultimately, however, an ethical will should be in the author’s own voice and convey the message that is important and meaningful to the author. This effort will undoubtedly take time and thought, and maybe even several iterations over time, but can provide a lasting and meaningful gift to recipients.
Just as there is no one right way to create an ethical will, there is no one right time to deliver it. Despite the word “will,” bequeathing an ethical will is not limited to the author’s time of death. While ethical wills are certainly bestowed at an author’s passing (and, if so provided, should be kept with the author’s estate documents to ensure delivery), they can be quite powerful and meaningful when provided during the author’s lifetime. In many instances, ethical wills are given at significant life events such as graduation, marriage or the birth of a child. An author might even add to an ethical will over time and deliver it in stages. Whenever an ethical will is delivered, however, it is certain to be a cherished gift and lasting legacy.
If you are interested in learning more about ethical wills, please let us know. We would be happy to discuss them in more detail.
This presentation has been prepared by Market Street Trust Company. The views expressed herein represent opinions of Market Street and are presented for informational purposes only. They are not intended to be recommendations or investment advice and do not take into account the individual financial circumstances or objectives of the investor who receives them.
Certain statements included in this presentation constitute forward looking statements. Forward looking statements are not facts but reflect current thinking regarding future events or results. These forward looking statements are subject to risks that may result in actual results being materially different from current expectations.
Past performance (before and after taxes) does not guarantee future performance. There is no assurance that Market Street Trust Company investments will achieve their objectives, or that they will or are likely to achieve results comparable to results shown herein, or will make any profit, or will be able to avoid incurring losses. Exposure to foreign currencies may cause additional fluctuation in the value of any investment. Each investor must assess the suitability of an investment, the investor’s tolerance for risk and the impact on the investor’s diversification strategy. This presentation does not constitute an invitation to buy or an offer to sell securities, or any other products or services.
This is intended as general information only. Investors maybe required to meet certain criteria under the securities laws in order to qualify for certain investments. Any discussion of U.S. tax matters is not intended and cannot be used or relied upon for the purpose of avoiding U.S. tax-related penalties. Please visit our website for additional information concerning Market Street’s investments and investment updates. As always, please feel free to contact us if you would like to learn more about our investment program.