When you are planning your estate you hear about a lot different legal instruments, but perhaps the most basic and well known among them is the will. This is of course the document that you draw up to elucidate your wishes with regard to the distribution of your assets after your death. There is also the living will, and this is an an advance health care directive. The living will is used to express your medical preferences in writing so that your wishes are known should you be unable to communicate your health care decisions due to incapacitation at some future juncture.
The ethical will is another type of will that is not talked about nearly as much, and it should be emphasized that it is not a legal document. But in spite of this, it is a very useful and important estate planning tool that can be of immeasurable value to you and your loved ones. The ethical will began as something that was passed down orally going back to biblical times, and the tradition was carried on through the authorship of written documents of a largely rabbinical nature.
Today, ethical wills are written by people of all faiths and creeds, and the content is generally of an instructive nature, meant to pass along the ethical, moral, and spiritual ethics of the author. Aside from providing guidance for succeeding generations, drawing up an ethical will has cathartic value to the writer. One can seek forgiveness for past transgressions or simply pour out the contents of his or her heart in an earnest act of emotional release.
Some people choose to write their ethical will before embarking on the rest of their estate planning. In this manner they obtain a sense of spiritual equilibrium that allows them to proceed from an appropriate mindset.