An Ethical Estate Plan Deals With More Than Your Assets
The ultimate purpose of a traditional will and estate plan is to give the person who dies control over the distribution of his or her physical assets. In some cases, trusts or other devices may be used to pass assets on to future generations in a more meaningful way. In some cases, however, you might want to leave a lot more than physical property and other assets to your heirs. You may want to share the wisdom of a life lived, for example, or to share memories with your surviving loved ones, or just to let them all know they matter. You may want to consider what is called an ethical will.
Ethical wills are not a new idea, really. They have actually been used since the 13th Century, when fathers would use their will to pass on "ethical teachings" to their heirs, along with their "stuff." Those who choose to write an ethical will may do so to unite a family that has been torn apart by circumstances, or to heal the hurt when differences of opinion cause family's to split apart.
An ethical estate plan can be used to go well beyond legal and financial considerations and add something that is highly personal to your plan, and perhaps even add to your legacy. With today's technological advances, you can easily add photos, audio and video items to your estate, and change or augment them whenever you want. Anyone can create a ethical will, and tell any story they want to tell. Perhaps they want to document their struggles for equal rights, or their efforts to overcome an illness or physical or mental disability.
Ethical wills do not supplant the legal will, they simply add another layer. They are used to leave more than tangible assets. They can be used to express the grantor's wishes for how his heirs should use the assets bequeathed to them, or to make specific requests of heirs, above and beyond simply leaving them assets. They may also use such an ethical will to teach heirs the secrets of their success, and perhaps lead them down the same road. By sharing the lessons you learned throughout your life, and teaching your heirs not to make the same mistakes you made, you may be able to pass on the legacy of a smoother and more successful life. By telling them your biggest regrets, you may be able to help them avoid such obstacles in their lives. By imparting your wisdom, such as your definition of success and what you found was necessary to achieve it. You may make their life more successful.
Also, you may have specific hopes and dreams for family unity, or you may want to establish a family-run foundation to support your favorite charity. You may have ideas with regard to what your family name should stand for. All of these things are important, and they may be more meaningful when they are spelled out in an ethical estate plan than they would be in a dry legal document. By telling a story, and using audio, video and other technology, you can preserve the family history, establish the core values and beliefs of your family, and being communication between generations to a whole new level.
Keep in mind, an ethical will is not a legal document, nor does it act as one. Assets that are left to heirs go through formal legal structures like wills and trusts. But adding an ethical will can still add a layer of hope to an estate plan, and add to yours and your family's legacy.