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The difference between traditional and ethical wills

Regardless of your age, health or degree of wealth, creating a will is a critical step in the estate-planning process because it ensures the allocation of your assets in accordance with your wishes. While a traditional last will and testament typically makes determinations about who is going to receive what, another type of will, known as the ethical will, can help you pass along what is non-tangible, such as life lessons, personal beliefs and values.

Sometimes referred to as a spiritual letter or a legacy letter, an ethical will differs broadly from a traditional one. For example, ethical wills are far less regulated.

Rules rarely apply in creating ethical wills

Traditional wills must follow predetermined guidelines in order to be valid. For example, many states require that a certain number of witnesses are present at the signing of the will and that those witnesses must also sign the document. When it comes to the ethical will, however, such rules do not apply. You also do not have to use certain forms or procedures when drafting your ethical will, nor do you generally need to pay for it.

Ethical wills also differ considerably from traditional wills because of the types of wishes they express.

What an ethical will might allocate

While your will makes determinations about who is to receive your home, savings, jewelry and other assets, your ethical will can contain information about any number of non-tangible matters of importance. For example, maybe you operate a restaurant and rely exclusively on secret family recipes you want to pass on to a trusted confidante, or perhaps you want to offer forgiveness to a friend or family member who wronged you. Both are fair game when it comes to the ethical will, as is any other wisdom or knowledge you want to impart on loved ones after your passing.

Traditional and ethical wills help you organize your thoughts and allow you to help your loved ones understand your desires after your death. For more about end-of-life planning, get in touch with an attorney.

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