There are any number of confusing acronyms and unfamiliar terms tossed at you when you start to get serious about planning your estate. But there is one estate planning vehicle that everyone is very familiar with, and that would be the will. Of course there is the standard will that is used to state your wishes with regard to the way that you would like your assets to be distributed after you pass away. We also recommend the living will, with which you state your health care preferences in the event of your incapacitation. But there is another type of will called the ethical will that is not a legally binding document but is a useful estate planning tool all the same.
The ethical will dates back to the book of Genesis and was originally part of an oral tradition, intended to pass moral and spiritual guidance down from generation to generation. Eventually ethical wills were recorded in writing, and they have been routinely used by the rabbinic community and Jewish laypeople for centuries. At this point the living will has become a universal, widely recommended estate planning device that has significant benefits on a practical and a psychological level for both the writer and the readers.
When you are planning your estate and taking stock of your material assets you are invariably going to evaluate your overall life’s path; your decisions, your actions, and the lessons you learned along the way. This type of introspection is especially meaningful when it is taking place during the latter stages of your life. If you record your ruminations in an ethical will it can help to guide you as you are deciding on the details of your estate. In addition, once those decisions have been made, your ethical will can provide your loved ones with some rules to live by as they take on new levels of responsibility when they become the stewards of your legacy.