kiplinger-retirement-20200603

Ethical wills or legacy letters are documents to“ communicate values, experiences and life lessons to your family,” says Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of Everplans.

Rebecca Schreiber, a Manhattan real estate agent, was getting her papers in order after a divorce and decided that, along with redoing her legal will, she would also write up an ethical will for her two young children.

“It was a way to convey my wishes and hopes to my children,” says Schreiber, 42.

Ethical wills or legacy letters, as they are also called, are documents to “communicate values, experiences and life lessons to your family,” says Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of Everplans, which helps people plan and store important documents in one place online.

No one needs an expert to write their own ethical will, although there are services that prompt people to do it. For example, Barry Baines, a hospice medical director in Minnesota, is co-founder of livingwisely.org, a company that offers both guidance for creating ethical wills and trains facilitators — such as financial planners and hospice workers — about how to help people fashion their own legacy letters.

“Everyone is capable of doing it by themselves,” Baines says. “But you need that protected time to reflect and write.”

While the task may seem daunting, most people’s ethical wills aren’t long, perhaps only a page or two.

For those who don’t know where to start, Schneiderman suggests writing about their personal history, favorite things, academic and professional life, religious and political views, and hopes for the future.

Be creative. Jo Kline, a retired, attorney and author of “So Grows the Tree: Creating an Ethical Will,” says hers is a slideshow with photos of loved ones and her favorite quotes. Or think of how a favorite hobby can convey to others your passions and beliefs. For example, if you love cooking, take beloved recipes and annotate them with memories and hopes for future family gatherings, Kline says.

For many, leaving an ethical will seems like a grandiose idea, that their lives are too ordinary or unsuccessful for them to have valuable insights to share. But the struggles are where life lessons come from, Baines says.

The document can also be one of self-reflection for how you want to live the rest of your life. “It’s a way to soul-search what I want the rest of my footprint to look like,” Kline says, to ask, “What do I stand for?”

(Alina Tugend is a contributing writer to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.)

Recommended for you

Load comments