Estate Planning for Intangible Treasures

chatpackthumbLast year for Christmas, my mother-in-law gave my children a “Chat Pack.” It’s a box of cards with simple questions designed to start conversations.

My kids love it and keep it in the car, pulling out the cards on long road trips. They love hearing my husband and me answer the questions, which sometimes stimulates deeper discussions about our world view and the experiences that shaped us. And this got me thinking…

It is through our conversations that we share our family traditions, values, hopes and dreams; that we teach our children who we are and what is most important to us; that we express our love for them.

So what would happen if we were no longer around to have these conversations with them? How would we pass down these intangible treasures that are truly worth more than all our material wealth?

One way to do this is through an ethical will.

What’s An Ethical Will?

An ethical will is not a binding legal document. Rather, it is a heartfelt letter that allows us to express our love for our family and close friends, describe the things that are most meaningful to us, pass on life lessons and values, and share family stories and traditions in a way that can be passed from one generation to the next.

The History of the Ethical Will

A revival of an old Jewish tradition, the ethical will has gained popularity in recent years. It can take on a variety of forms, from a short letter, to a long autobiography, such as the bestseller “The Last Lecture”, written by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It can also take the form of a video or audio tape, or a series of tapes.

Some people choose to share their ethical wills during their lifetimes on special events, while others leave instructions for them to be shared after their death. Whatever the form, and whenever they are shared, they are likely to be more treasured than any material wealth you leave behind.

If you would like to write an ethical will, but don’t know where to start, several books about ethical wills can help guide you. You can also learn more about ethical wills here.

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