Palliative care guidelines recommend an interdisciplinary approach to address patients’ awareness of mortality and need for end-of-life preparation. An ethical will is a nonlegal way to address mortality by communicating a lasting and intangible legacy of values to others. The aim of this scoping review is to clarify the operationalization of ethical wills across disciplines and map the purposes and outcomes of creating an ethical will.
We followed the Joanna Briggs Institute methodology for scoping reviews. We searched 14 databases in November 2019 and January 2021 without filtering publication date or type. Two reviewers independently screened 1,948 publications. We extracted frequently used terms describing content, audience, format, purpose, and outcomes identified in ethical will creation.
Fifty-one publications met inclusion criteria. Six (11.7%) were research articles. Twenty-four (47.1%) were lay literature published within law, estate, and financial planning. Collectively, our included studies defined an ethical will as a nonlegal way to express values, beliefs, life lessons and experiences, wisdom, love, history, hope for the future, blessings, apology, or forgiveness using any format (e.g., text, audio, video) that is meant to be shared with family, friends, or community. The most common purposes were to be remembered, address mortality, clarify life's meaning, and communicate what matters most. Creation provided opportunity to learn about self, served as a gift to both writer and recipient, and fostered generativity and sense of symbolic immortality.
Significance of results
Our findings highlight interdisciplinary utilization and a lack of research of ethical wills. This review provides supportive evidence for ethical wills as a way for patients to address mortality, renew intergenerational connections, solidify self, and promote transcendence before their final days. Ethical wills have potential to be incorporated into interdisciplinary palliative care in the future to address psychological symptoms for patients anticipating the end of life.