What’s a Spiritual Will? And How Do You Write One?

Updated

A spiritual will, also known as a legacy letter, helps you think about what matters most to you. A traditional will and testament protects your assets but a spiritual will offers a way to express your beliefs and personal values. 

When it comes to leaving a legacy, more people choose to write a spiritual will or ethical will. However, through a spiritual will or letter, you share knowledge, values, and important parts of your life journey with those you trust the most. It has become more important than ever to write a legal will and a spiritual will or legacy letter offers that option. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

How will you make sure those you love have a reminder of what’s important to you? How will you impart important lessons, values, and ethics even after you’ve passed?

You can achieve all of this with a spiritual will, and it doesn’t cost you anything or require a trip to a lawyer. In this guide, we’ll share what makes up a spiritual will and how to write your own. 

Spiritual Wills Defined

Writing a last will and testament serves as an important part of protecting your assets and final wishes. A spiritual will might seem like a new concept to many in our modern culture, but spiritual wills actually existed as an ancient practice dating back thousands of years. 

Think of your last will and testament as a legal document. Yes, it includes information about your physical assets, but what about your non-physical assets? How do you pass down traditions, values, and lessons? For this, you need an ethical or spiritual will. 

History

Spiritual wills go back thousands of years within the Jewish faith. In biblical times, ethical wills were usually instructional, and they were a formal record of one’s final wishes. In the Old Testament, Jacob blessed his children in his ethical will and told them where he wanted them to bury him. 

Jacob’s final wishes became a model for spiritual wills and Jewish death practices. At this time, it was important to get your affairs in order before your time came. You were to share your wishes with the next generation as a way to carry on your legacy. These messages could include praise, blessings, or even rebuttals, but they were an important tradition in the Jewish faith. 

During the Middle Ages, ethical wills continued to hold a strong place in society. These were passed down through families. One of the most famous ethical wills was written by Judah ibn Tibbon to his son Samuel before his death in the 12th century. Over 50 pages long, this ethical will covered a variety of topics like the importance of reading as well as his wishes for his son to live up to his expectations. 

These spiritual wills were also important documents among the victims of the Holocaust. The Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Israel has a number of ethical wills written by Jewish people before their death at the hands of the Nazis. In these heartfelt wills, the writers thank their families, ask for a proper Jewish burial, express their faith, and call for vengeance. 

Purpose

Ethical wills aren’t limited to the Jewish faith. They were adopted into Christianity as well, and many secular groups also call for more people to write their own spiritual wills. These have also become a large part of hospice care, end-of-life planning, and social work. 

You can point to a lot of reasons to write a spiritual will:

  • Family history: Spiritual wills share a glimpse into your family’s history, past, and generational traditions. 
  • Values: The most important part of a spiritual will shares your values, ethics, and purpose. In other words, what’s important to you?
  • Lessons: Spiritual wills offer a safe place to impart final lessons and have important messages for the recipient. 
  • Connection: They also connect the deceased with living relatives, providing a moving, emotional memento in your own words.
  • Legacy: Because you write these while you're alive, they offer an opportunity to reflect on your own legacy. 

All of these reasons above make writing a spiritual will a powerful experience both for the writer and the recipient and often offer a reflection of the writer. 

ยป MORE: Don't skip these commonly forgotten post loss tasks. View our guide.

 

How to Write a Spiritual Will

With so many different types of legacy projects, you may not always find it easy to know which one fits you. A spiritual will offers an easy, free way to put a bit of yourself on a page (or digital page). Learn how to write a spiritual will for yourself — no prior writing experience necessary. 

1. Decide what you want to include.

Unlike a legal will and testament, you won't find any rules about what you can or can’t include in a spiritual will. Often used as a tool for self-reflection and connecting with loved ones, you might include:

  • Your story
  • Family photographs
  • Recipes
  • Favorite objects/mementos
  • Letters to loved ones
  • Important values
  • Religious prayers
  • Favorite quotes
  • Favorite books, TV shows, films
  • Final wishes

Any of the above items are a great fit for a spiritual will. Consider what’s meaningful and important to you and go from there. 

2. Choose your medium.

Next, choose your medium for your spiritual will. Unlike a traditional will and testament, you don’t have to choose a written will if you’d prefer a different option. You can choose so many different types of ethical and spiritual wills, so don’t feel tied to any specific medium. Read through some recommendations to begin your process:

  • Physical or digital letter
  • Video
  • Audio recording
  • Slideshow or presentation
  • Scrapbook
  • Journal
  • Artwork

Create your spiritual will based on the way you like to express yourself. Feel free to create something that has meaning to you. 

3. Create your rough draft.

When you feel confident in your method and what you want to include, begin building your rough draft. It’s a smart idea to prepare a rough draft before your final draft so you can make sure you collect all of your important ideas. 

As you work, continue to make revisions and edit along the way. You may spend several days, weeks, months, or even years to make the perfect spiritual will. Ideas may come to you along the way, so give yourself ample time to put pen to paper (so to speak). 

4. Finalize your spiritual will.

When you feel your will has reached its final stages, you want to finalize it. This might mean printing a final draft, saving it online, or sharing it with your loved ones. Many choose to share these spiritual documents with their families before they pass, but you could also include your will with your legal plans. 

Save your spiritual will somewhere safe and secure. Make sure you let your loved ones know where to find it and don't feel afraid to add to it again later. 

Spiritual Will Example

It’s helpful to follow an example when creating a will like this. Because it’s such a creative, emotional project, you might not know where to begin. Read the short, effective spiritual will below for ideas.

Dear beloved family,

As I approach my final years, I wish to express a few words about my feelings and thoughts. Throughout my life, I’ve always valued the importance of honesty and faith. I believe these two values guided me through each stage of my life, from earning my master’s degree to becoming a leading attorney in the state. 

That being said, it’s my family’s love that I cherish the most. Watching my children grow and achieve more than I could ever imagine has been the greatest blessing of my life. To Stephanie and Jason, I am so proud of you both. Thank you for making me smile every day. To my wife, Lisa, thank you for always staying by my side. In my honor, I ask that you all continue to grow together in honesty and faith. I will always be by your side.

Love, 

Derrek

What Do You Do With a Spiritual Will Once it’s Complete?

Once you’ve completed your spiritual will, it’s important to save it somewhere secure and accessible. You can either share it with your entire family or store it somewhere safe. Many include their spiritual wills with their traditional will and testament, intending it to be found only after their death. 

Regardless of your choice, make sure your family knows how to access your spiritual will when the time comes. Don't forget to upload it to your free, secure Cake account so your designated loved ones can access it online. 

Save Your Values for Future Generations

If you could sum up a lifetime of experience in a single letter, what would you say? Spiritual wills give you a perfect way to share your values, ethics, and important lessons with those you love. They go beyond a legal will and testament to strengthen family bonds. 

Dating back to biblical times, these spiritual wills have traveled across generations. More relevant than ever, now is the time to put your thoughts into words for future generations by creating your own. 


Sources

  1. “Medieval Sourcebook: Jewish Ethical Wills, 12th & 14th Centuries.” Fordham University. SourceBooks.Fordham.edu
  2. Rubin, Jamie. “Jewish Ethical Wills.” My Jewish Learning. MyJewishLearning.com
  3. “The Untold Stories: Written Accounts.” Yad Vashem. YadVashem.org. 

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.