When a loved one passes, it’s common for those close to them to gather mementos, photographs, and videos while taking care of their home and personal effects. These items serve as a reminder of who they were, what they looked like and the memories they shared during their time on this earth. But what you might not know is that there is another document you can consider leaving behind, and that’s an ethical will.

An ethical will, different from a legal will, is a document for you to share with your loved ones that encompasses your values, family stories, and other information that you want to be remembered when you pass. It’s your chance to leave your family with answers to questions about you and your life, an opportunity to pass down the lessons you learned along the way, and it serves as a time capsule for those that love you, something they can return to to gather your wisdom. Although it’s less formal, it can be such a special gift for family and friends and is definitely something to consider.

So what exactly do you include in an ethical will and how do you go about writing one?

There’s No Right Way

First, it is important to note that there is no wrong way to write an ethical will. First and foremost, it should be something that fits your personality. If it is a bit scattered or made up of an amalgamation of short stories and notes, that is completely fine. If it is linear and highly detailed, that’s fine too. An ethical will is supposed to be personal, so it makes sense that they will fluctuate in style and form.

Choose A Format

The next thing you should do is to choose a format. There are an infinite number of options to choose from, but you might want to ask yourself the following questions…

  • Do you want to write a letter to different family members separately?
  • Do you want to focus on telling the complete story of your life?
  • Do you want to write it in the form of a chapter book?
  • Do you want to keep it written as an informal journal of quotes?

It’s important to remember that at any time you can change and add to your ethical will so it doesn’t need to be set in stone, but picking a format can help you begin to plan the content.

Get Creating

When it comes to gathering all the information, there are so many topics to choose from. We found some great prompts from Everplans that can help you explore what you might like to include in your ethical will. Here are some ideas…

My Beliefs and Values

  • My most fundamental belief is:
  • My thoughts on religion and faith are:
  • I believe that God is:
  • My most valued traditions are:
  • The causes that have always been important to me are:
  • For me, success means:

My Favorite Things

  • My favorite place in the world is:
  • My favorite artists (musicians, painters, actors) are:
  • My favorite books are:
  • My favorite movies are:
  • My favorite foods are:
  • My favorite sports and teams are:
  • My hobbies are:
  • My favorite sayings are:

My Family

  • The most important thing I learned from my parents is:
  • The most important thing I learned from my grandparents is:
  • The most important thing I learned from being a husband/wife is:
  • The most important thing I learned from my children is:
  • When I was growing up, these were our traditions:
  • My favorite story about my mother is:
  • My favorite story about my father is:
  • Some things I’d like to share with you about my family when I was growing up are:

My Professional Life

  • The best job I ever had was:
  • The worst job I ever had was:
  • The reason I choose my profession/career was:
  • If I had it to do over again, I would have become a:

My Experiences

  • Some of my fondest memories are:
  • Some of the events that had the greatest impact on my life were:
  • I am most proud of:
  • I am most grateful for:
  • One of the happiest moments of my life was:
  • The people who have influenced me the most are:
  • My biggest regret is:
  • The hardest decision I ever made was:
  • The most difficult time in my life was:
  • In difficult times I have found comfort in:
  • In my life, I was most afraid of:
  • I would like to ask forgiveness from:
  • I would like to offer forgiveness to:

My Hopes for the Future

  • The values I hope to pass on are:
  • My wishes for my children are:
  • My wishes for my grandchildren are:
  • My wishes for my spouse are:
  • A mistake in life I hope you can avoid is:
  • An experience I hope you get an opportunity to have is:
  • When you encounter hardship, I hope you will remember:


Once in the process of creating, you should think about how you want to deliver your ethical will. You might want to give each member of your immediate family a copy, or get it bound as a single booklet. One recommendation is to consider recording yourself delivering the will as an accompaniment to the finished document. This can be an extra special way for your family to remember your voice, and personality too.

One thing to note is to ensure it’s timeless. Changes in technology can be tricky to predict and with floppy discs and CDs already ousted, it’s worth creating a hard copy to ensure it stands the test of time.

Start Now And Remember That Your Voice Matters

Finally, if this is something you’d like to create, we recommend that you start now. It may seem too early to begin working on an ethical will, and you might want to live more life before you begin. While that’s of course up to you, it can be a fun lifelong project to compile and as we all know, you never know when your time will come.

It can be challenging to think about leaving your loved ones on this Earth when you pass, but an ethical will can give them something that helps them remember you. Whether you think you have an amazing life story or not, your loved ones likely find your wisdom more than worthy. Your life and the legacy you leave are more important than you may realize and an ethical will could be the greatest and most treasured thing you leave your loved ones.

As always, the team here at Ryan Funeral Home is here to help in any way. If you have questions or are in need of some support, do reach out to us at 608-274-1000 at any time.