A perennial hot-button topic in estate planning and the creation of inheritance documents involves the passing on of personal values. Of course, the majority of work related to estate plans invovles physical assets: who gets the house, the bank accounts, the stocks, the insurance, the family china, and more. Making these allocations efficiently and saving on taxes are the hallmarks of these preparations. But our team often discusses the other aspects of estate planning, including setting in place material that ensures one leaves a legacy for those they are leaving behind.
This often includes spiritual issues but can just as well include secular notions like hard work, the importance of charity, and other values.
But how are these issues woven into an estate plan?
For one thing, as discussed in a recent article, “spiritual” estate planning is on the rise. This includes making inheritance allocations based on values, such as donating to religious charities or non-profits that support favored causes. In fact, according to one industry group–Charity Navigator–bequests to charities are up 19% this year as opposed to last year. Working with a professional beforehand can be crucial if one wants to leave sums to charity, because the gifts can be structured in various ways to ensure they are of maximum value for all parties.
On the other hand, some may want to incorporate their faith or values more directly into their plans, including trying to influence the actions of heirs with regard to respecting the faith. For example, a recent Wall Street Journal story on the tricky subject of using an estate plan to pass on religious values.
The article explained how there are a wide range of throny legal issues tied up in connecting inheritances with these faith-based requirements. Perhaps the most common heavy-handed approach invovles disinheriting those who are not spiritually devote or who marry outside of the faith. In most cases courts have upheld these requirements so long as they are not written to encourage divorce. Yet, even when legal, those familiar with these situations frequently explain that this often comes with very severe family controversy and confusion. As such, while the intentions are to honor one’s religion, the ultimate consequences of this sort of feuding often do little to advance that cause.
In most cases, the best bet is still to share one’s faith and values while alive, instead of trying to force the matter via inheritance details in an estate plan.
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