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Ethical Will Guide – How to Write and Prepare

man writing in journal

Ethical Will Guide

An ethical will is a voluntary, non-legally binding document that usually contains a set of stories, notes, and last words to your family and friends. Adapted from Jewish tradition, this document can be as formal or informal as you wish.  The defining feature of an ethical will is the intent rather than the content. An ethical will should be written to inspire your family and friends, as well as share with them values and hopes you believe they should uphold following your passing. It has been noted as a, “love letter from beyond.”

Traditionally, these end-of-life documents (also known as tzava’ot in Hebrew) are intended for parents to pass on wisdom and inspire their children and the next generation. Some of the information contained within the ethical will could be burial instructions, debts to be paid, or blessings. However, these traditions have changed and shifted over the years, and it should be noted there is no halachic (Jewish law) template individuals must follow when drafting an ethical will; Additionally, these documents have been growing in popularity in secular circles as well, and anyone can write an ethical will, regardless of religious affiliation.

In modern, secular usage, ethical wills are typically places for reflection, allowing an individual to retell and document the story of their life. It’s a place for the passing of traditions and values, as well as blessings for the future generation. Writing an ethical will is also known to be an emotionally and spiritually healing exercise for many people, and can help decrease a person’s death anxiety. 

Writing an Ethical Will

Do you need to write an ethical will? No. Ethical wills are completely voluntary and are not legally binding. Even so, many people still feel compelled to write one. Historically, ethical wills were mostly written privately and shared amongst family members, although a person might include an apprentice, student, or other close individuals in viewing their will. The wish to maintain a living memory and reach a level of symbolic immortality is compelling, and an ethical will is a simple way to make sure your wishes and stories are documented.

In addition, there could be a number of practical reasons to draft an ethical will. The will can be as simple as a document outlining the distribution of financially non-valuable family artifacts that may have great meaning to you. Or, it could be used as a therapeutic exercise to look into the face of mortality and face a level of death anxiety. For some, drafting an ethical will could be an obligatory aspect of their spirituality and religion, or a family tradition. 

Writing an ethical will could begin as a daunting task, but there are steps you can take to help you start the process:

  • Firstly, when? Writing an ethical will might feel like something you have to painstakingly carve out while on your deathbed, but you can start drafting your ethical will at any point in your life. While most individuals begin to write their ethical will as they grow older in age, there is no definitive age in which you must begin writing your will. One option for a younger writer is making notes for the will during periods of reflection, and adding on to it as time passes, drafting the complete will throughout the years.
  • And, how? The format of the document completely depends on you. Feel free to be creative; This is something for you and your family, and the format of it should reflect your own personality. While they are traditionally written as a letter, due to the development of modern technology, ethical wills can now take form as a number of other mediums. While this is a non-exhaustive list, here are a number of ways your ethical will could manifest: a formal letter, a video message, an audio recording, a scrapbook of messages, a list of final wishes, a poem, or a chest of individual letters and notes. While the will itself is the star of the project, think about compiling your ethical will with other family heirlooms, such as clothes, journals, photos, and other trinkets.
  • What about? When drafting your ethical will, it can be hard to start the actual act of organizing and writing out the information. Firstly, it can be good to look towards other resources for inspiration when starting out. Rereading journal or diary entries, talking to family members, or looking through photos could help jog memories. Think about categorizing your writing as well. Some recommended sections could be: stories and memories; apologizes, debts, and final words; values and traditions; and hopes for the future. The writing can be as simple or intricate as you prefer.
  • Who can help? Writing an ethical will can be a very personal experience, and it can bring out many memories that you might not want to necessarily confront. It is natural to possibly want space while drafting the document, but know that you are not necessarily alone in your efforts. There are numerous resources to help you online, including a number of private organizations that focus on assisting individuals with their ethical will. Additionally, hospices and other end-of-life organizations usually have resources to help you with planning your ethical will in their programming.

Facing mortality and making arrangements regarding one’s own death is not an easy task. At Tulip Cremation, we aim to be another resource for you during this difficult time. If you are looking for a simple pre-plan option, we offer prepaid plans as well as an imminent need service (service within six months). We are dedicated to providing you a transparent, high-quality direct cremation service at a low-price. Whenever you’re ready, contact our 24/7 Family Care Team at  (844) 942-4909 or arrange online.

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