A Life Well Lived – Why Your Loved One Should Write an Ethical Will

will-dreamstime_s_75863984The diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s has a way of putting life into perspective. It may also spur your family member or loved one to consider their legacy and the values and lessons they wish to pass down to the next generations. While it is always a good idea to review or create important documentation, such as a durable power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, will, and trust, these items don’t let your loved pass down their story. To do that, your loved one should create an ethical will.

What Is an Ethical Will?

Despite its name, an ethical will is not an official legal document. Instead, it is a composition that allows your loved one to tell his or her story and share lessons, values, advice, and blessings. While a will or trust is designed to allow a loved one to pass a physical legacy of assets to the next generation, an ethical will is a way to pass down an emotional and spiritual legacy.

Ethical wills come from the Jewish tradition and have been written for hundreds of years. These days, ethical wills are being embraced by the larger population and are often considered an important part of the estate planning process.

What Goes in an Ethical Will?

The beauty of an ethical will is that there is no right or wrong way to write it. In fact, you don’t even have to write it! You can record your loved one in a video on your phone. Many ethical wills are written as letters from an individual to their family. They can be as short as a few paragraphs or as long as a full-length book!

Some common topics that ethical wills address include:

  • Childhood history
  • Remembrances of family members
  • Young adult history
  • Remembrance of relationship and marriage with spouse
  • Thoughts/remembrance on parenthood
  • Professional history
  • Important life events
  • Deeply held beliefs and life motivations
  • Important life lessons
  • Wishes for the next generation
  • Thoughts on religion and belief
  • Thoughts on love and family
  • Career advice or thoughts on hard work
  • Blessings for family members
  • Requests for forgiveness
  • Offers of forgiveness
  • Final thoughts

This is nowhere near a comprehensive list of what an ethical will can contain, and certainly your loved one’s ethical will doesn’t need to include all of these sections.

How to Get Your Loved One Started on their Ethical Will

If your loved one suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, the project of creating an ethical will can be difficult. They may struggle to organize their thoughts and may have trouble focusing for long periods of time.

You may need to help your loved one create their ethical will. Here are some tips:

Choose the Right Medium

If your loved has trouble sitting down to write an ethical will, consider recording them on your phone. You can either video record them or download an app that allows for audio recordings. If you do not live in the same area, download an app that lets you record calls.

Ask Questions

The hardest part of most projects is just to start. You can make creating an ethical will a lot less intimidating by writing down questions for your loved one to answer. Sample questions could include:

  • What are your memories of your early childhood?
  • What are the most important values that you live by?
  • What do you remember about your mother and father?
  • What are the ingredients to creating a happy marriage?
  • If you could give your children/grandchildren three pieces of advice, what would they be?

Break It Up

Your loved one doesn’t have to write an ethical will in a single day. Instead, tackle it in chunks. Consider asking three questions a day or encouraging your loved one to work on it each day for 30 minutes (or less if they cannot focus that long).

Be Patient

Your loved one may repeat stories or not be in the mood to work on the ethical will. Be patient and recognize that dementia or Alzheimer’s may make this a difficult task for them. Let them create the ethical will they want and openly share their thoughts. This is, after all, their story to tell!

Share It

Ethical wills are meant to be shared. When the project is completed, save it and share. Get permission from your loved one first and then send it to the family and friends who will most appreciate it. While Alzheimer’s or dementia may slowly steal away your loved one’s memories and personality, an ethical will allows you to capture and treasure a part of your loved one forever! Learn more about ethical wills.

Need help dealing with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia? If you live in the San Diego/Poway area, please join Sunshine Care for our monthly caregiver’s support group. It’s free and open to the public.


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