People who are approaching death as well as those who are healthy, but would like to be prepared in case of untimely death, benefit from drawing up an ethical will for these three benefits: aids in estate planning; serves as a tool for spiritual healing; and a means of handing down legacy to loved ones.
Ethical wills are written by people from all walks of life, who usually, but not strictly, are approaching death. In recent years, they have gained adherents among middle-aged persons who are healthy but would like to be prepared in case of an untimely death. There are at least three reasons why people feel the need to draw up an ethical will:
Aid to estate planning
Where the head of the family expects to leave behind a large estate, or a family business, to his children, he would do well to prepare not just the traditional “will”—which directs how and to whom his assets would be transferred or apportioned following his death—but also a written document containing business advice and guidance on how he would want his heirs to carry on after him. In these circumstances, the absence of an ethical will may lead to collapse of the family business, or children bickering over how the estate should be disposed of. At the very least, the heir who assumes primary responsibility for the estate or the business is left in a quandary as to what “Dad” or “Mom” would do if they were alive. An ethical will is not a legally binding document, but it is an important part of the estate planning process of the person drawing the ethical will. Thus, the ethical will should be prepared by the family head as an adjunct to the legal will.
Tool for spiritual healing
The ethical will may be prepared by people who are relatively young and in good health, but the need to put in writing their thoughts, memories, and unrealized hopes is greatest among the sick, the elderly, and the dying.
Thus, an ethical will is used as a tool among religious communities and in care-giving institutions to unburden the sick and the dying of sentiments that may be preventing them from making their peace with God, or with themselves. Ethical wills may convey forgiveness or request it. They could speak of regret, missed chances, or deliberate wrongdoing. In putting such thoughts to paper, the person owns up to his mistakes and can then begin the process of coming to terms with his past.
Means of handing down legacy to loved ones
Some people who are approaching death have expressed fear of disappearing without a trace, and of leaving no reminder of themselves. They write an ethical will to tell the story of their life, to establish their place in history, and to leave evidence of their existence in the world.
More importantly, they want their loved ones to remember them, and to inherit their ideals, values and dreams, so that in living by these, their heirs ensure that the spirit of the writer of the ethical will lives on in succeeding generations.