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Have You Considered Leaving an Ethical Will

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

I had many years of experience as an estate planning attorney in Idaho before I had ever heard the term “ethical will”. It’s for this reason that I don’t expect many of my clients to understand what an ethical will document is or even what it is supposed to accomplish as part of an individual’s estate plan. However, now that I know what an ethical will is, and how it can be used to benefit the lives of the family members and other loved ones we may leave behind after we pass away, I believe that using an ethical will is a fantastic idea for almost every person.

At the Racine law office, our premier team of Idaho estate planning attorneys have assisted clients in the creation of customized estate plans to meet their unique circumstances for over 70 years. Our skilled and experienced Idaho estate planning team includes partners and associates as well as paralegals and legal assistants who understand and know how important each client’s individualized estate plan is. Our goal is to stay on the cutting edge of changes that occur in the law, as well as all of the options that may be used to accomplish each of our clients specific estate planning needs.

The purpose of this article is to explain what an ethical will is, as well as discussing who could and should leave an ethical will as part of their estate plan. Additionally we discuss how an ethical will is communicated to our family members and other loved ones we leave behind after we pass away.

What is an Ethical Will?

So what exactly is an ethical will? Although these documents have been around for some time, it’s only recently that people have coined and began using the term “ethical will” in the first place. To describe it as simply as possible, and ethical will is a document you leave behind that gives you the ability and opportunity to express words of gratitude and love to family members and other loved ones you leave behind.

This type of document has been around for quite a while. Prior to using the term “ethical will” to describe this document many people simply would call it a letter of instructions or even simply just a letter of remembrance or a letter of love. Regardless of what you call it, its purpose and use are invaluable. Although we often help clients with these types of documents, it can be created by a person individually, rather than needing an attorney to help because an ethical will has no legal significance.

Certainly, in expressing your love to your family members and others you do not want to inadvertently say or list something in your ethical will that creates problems with your actual estate planning documents which do have legal significance. As a result, we always encourage our clients to provide a copy of any ethical will they create to us so that we can review it and make sure that it does not create any conflicts or problems with the estate planning documents that we do draft for our clients.

Additionally, we often do have clients who specifically do want us to create the ethical will for them. We are happy to include this as part of their estate planning documents and in doing so work closely with our clients to make sure that the expressions we create accurately reflect their thoughts and feelings towards their family members and loved ones.

Who Could / Should Leave an Ethical Will?

So now that you know what an ethical will is should you create one as part of your own estate planning? One of the best things about being an estate planning attorney is that I am able to work with clients both in the creation of their estate planning documents, and after they have passed away with their family in carrying out the intention set forth in the estate plan. In other words, I often am able to work with my clients to help keep their family relationships intact and to avoid disagreements and family problems that often do arise. One of the best uses of an ethical will is to help maintain good relationships within the family after you have passed away.

Because an ethical will is such a powerful document in conveying expressions of love, admiration, respect, and devotion, we encourage nearly all of our clients to consider using an ethical will as part of their estate plan. Again, a person doesn’t have to title this document an “ethical will” in order for it to accomplish what an ethical will is designed to do.

How is an Ethical Will Communicated to Others?

Finally, the main question that most of my clients asked me when we discuss what an ethical will is and how it could be useful for their family, is how and when it will be communicated to others. There really is no one right way that and ethical will could or should be communicated. I’ve seen it done many ways, each of which has been very effective.

For example, in my own family, when a close aunt passed away, portions of her letter, which would qualify as an ethical will, were read during her memorial service. I have also seen circumstances where portions of an ethical will were printed in a funeral program. Alternatively, I’ve been involved with families who have kept the reading of an ethical will to be done just with family members. Additionally, I’ve had clients who have requested that a copy of the ethical will be included in notices of probate that would be sent to all applicable family members and other loved ones. The real key is not how an ethical will is communicated to family members or loved ones, but rather that it actually is communicated. My personal experience in observing families during the reading of an ethical will is that it often strengthens family relationships.

We have assisted numerous clients in the creation and communication of an ethical will. If you are interested in having an ethical will as part of your estate plan, we are confident that we can help you too!

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial consultation. Call us toll free at 877.232.6101 or 208.232.6101 for a consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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