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Ethical Wills

You may or may not have heard of the term “ethical will”. An ethical will doesn’t deal with money or assets, but instead with values, beliefs, words of wisdom, inner thoughts, and family history and tradition. We predict it will become a more common part of the estate planning process in future.

An ethical will can take many forms. The simplest is a written letter that can be kept with your legal will. Or it can be high-tech (with modern technology there are so many ways that we can communicate with each other)–an ethical will can also be composed as a recorded video, a slide show with pictures or a digital scrapbook.

What is perhaps most important is that an ethical will is a way to leave what may be the most valuable legacy, when all is said and done. A legacy of our own unique core beliefs, principles and life experiences to share with our family and loved ones.

When my own father passed away, as part of the funeral arrangements I composed a statement called “Dad’s Words of Wisdom” which we shared with others. In remembering him, it was all of his sayings, proverbs and sage advice that I had heard for a lifetime and resonated the most, and continue to do so to this day.

As a trust and estate lawyer who has prepared thousands of wills during my professional life, I recognize that a legal will is often dry and technical. But a legal will combined with an ethical will can be a compelling and wonderful gift, and can say things that might otherwise go unsaid. In its preparation, it is also an opportunity for self-reflection on what is most important, and on the lessons life has taught us which we can share with others.

Estate planning should involve not just the tangible but also the intangible, including dealing with our family and relationships and leaving our legacy in the most optimal way. An ethical will can be an invaluable part of our planning.

– Margaret O’Sullivan

Watch for our next blog post on plan and insurance designations and the difficulties sometimes encountered with institutional forms.

The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal or tax advice on any individual situation. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.