Column: Writing an ethical will


Commentary by Lisa Dillman

A legal will is an important legal document that outlines a person’s wishes regarding their assets (i.e., a home, IRA, bank accounts, etc.) following their passing. However, there’s often a lot more you may want to bestow upon your loved ones that doesn’t require an attorney’s help. Perhaps the start of the year is a good time to start brainstorming the legacy you’d like to leave behind. How do you want to be remembered?

How to write an ethical will

The wishes laid out in an ethical will typically hold more emotional value than monetary value. An ethical will can be in the form of individually handwritten letters addressed to whomever you’d like to include. Even a video recording of yourself reading your ethical will would be timeless way for your thoughts and wishes to be cherished. Your ethical will could be given to your loved ones prior to your passing, or you may wish to keep it with your other legal documents, to be found following your passing.

Three things to Include in your ethical will:

  • Wisdom: After living through life’s hills and valleys, you may have some words of advice you’d like to offer to future generations. You could also include stories or fables you were told as a child, fun family traditions, your biggest regret, or a life-changing lesson.
  • Sentimental keepsakes: Cookbooks, picture albums, your wedding dress, trinkets – all things that may not hold commercial value but are worth a lot more in the eyes of your loved ones.
  • Words of praise: An ethical will is an excellent place to recognize the people who have had a major impact on your life. Letting your loved ones know what they’ve meant to you can provide great closure following your death.

Lisa Dillman is an attorney at Applegate & Dillman Elder Law. The firm has offices in Indianapolis, Carmel and Zionsville. For more, visit


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