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Passing On Religious Values at Death

A New York elder law estate plan usually includes a range of features, from a trust and pour-over will to a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. Yet, no two plans are identical. While inheritance, retirement, and long-term care issues are common to all, the exact way to accomplish those goals depend on one’s situation, perspective, and values.

For example, religious belief can have very obvious implications on some of these issues. End-of-life decisions delineated in a living will reflect an individual’s personal perspective on advanced life support measures–often guided by a particular faith. In some case an advanced medical directive might include a clause that indicates such end-of-life decisions must be made by an individual with a particular religious perspective–perhaps an Orthodox rabbi with an expertise in Jewish law.

Religious traditions and inheritance issues are usually the most controversial way that one’s faith can affect their estate plan. Many families have individuals with varying kinds and degrees of religious faith. This is often a recipe for feuding for a family when religious issues are involved in how assets will be dispersed. Often there are few easy answers.

The most conflict-ridden of these issues relates to parents who wish their children to marry someone within the tradition. These parents often seek to disinherit those who marry outside the faith. Disinheritance on these grounds may lead to family divisions and costly legal fights. That is why it is important to talk with experienced professionals about these concerns to be made fully aware of one’s options and the potential ramifications of certain actions.

Clauses in inheritance documents that hinge on marriage decisions by heirs have been upheld in many courts so long as they are not deemed to encourage divorce. Yet, one purpose of planning is to account for possible legal challenges before they occur to hopefully prevent them altogether. One common alternative that may be less divisive is to leave assets to heirs in trust with a trustee given broad criteria to make distributions. In that way, religious conduct may play a role in the inheritance while allowing special circumstances to be taken into account.

In addition, our New York estate planning lawyers often advise clients on the benefit of crafting an “ethical will.” These wills are not legally binding but instead are exercises undertaken by thinking about one’s overall legacy. An ethical will is often given to a family while one is still alive. It acts as a way to pass on the values, wisdom, and perspective gained over the course of a lifetime. Quite often an ethical will shares morals and lessons rooted in the author’s spiritual faith. It is yet another way for one to pass on those faith-based beliefs to loved ones.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Thinking Beyond the Paperwork–Creating an Ethical Will

New York Estate Planning Can Address Religious Goals

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