Faith Based Estate Planning

THE COUNSELOR

Volume 5 • Issue 9 • September 2015

The Counselor is a monthly newsletter of Hallock & Hallock dedicated to providing useful information on estate planning, business succession planning and charitable planning issues. In this month’s issue, we will discuss faith based estate planning. If you are interested in learning more about the ideas and processes discussed in this newsletter, please contact us for an initial consultation.


Religious beliefs can affect a wide variety of daily decisions. But, we are often encouraged to check our religion at the door when it comes to legal documents such as an estate plan. In reality, religious beliefs can and should affect how we approach our estate planning decisions. Whether it is end of life health care, organ donation, burial or cremation decisions, charitable planning and even distributions to your children, there are a variety of opportunities to express your religious faith in your estate planning. The idea is to plan your estate in a way that incorporates your true values into the plan. If you believe in the importance of self-reliance, you want to have an estate plan that creates an incentive for your heirs to work. If you believe in helping the poor and the needy, your plan should reflect this value. Here are several ways individuals can incorporate their faith and beliefs into their estate planning:

  • One of the more common methods of faith based planning is the decision to penalize individuals who do not uphold your convictions. An example of this occurred in the 2009 case of In re Estate of Feinberg. In the Feinberg case, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a provision in the Feinbergs’ trusts referred to as the “Jewish clause.” The “Jewish clause” provided that any descendant who married outside of the Jewish faith would be deemed deceased and thus would not inherit a share of the estate. While such provisions may be enforceable, this method is generally an ineffective way to encourage or affect behavior. A more effective way to approach such planning may be to leave money in trust that incentivizes certain activities, such as attending a faith based school, receiving faith based instruction, or providing service to others.

  • A great way to incorporate your faith into your estate plan is to include language in the will, trust, or in a separate document (such as an ethical will) that conveys your faith and values in writing. This is a teaching moment where you give a far greater gift than simply a share of financial assets, you give a gift of wisdom and belief that everyone gets 100% of and can really change lives.

  • An advance health care directive/medical power of attorney can be a place where you share your faith and beliefs about life and death. You may request a visit by a bishop, priest, rabbi or other clergy. You may wish to include a provision about organ donation. A woman may want to include her preference on medical decisions that would impact an unborn child.

  • Your faith can influence your views on whether to choose burial or cremation. It may dictate whether an autopsy should be performed. You may wish to specify a specific church or clergy for funeral services. Particular hymns may be important to you that could be shared at your funeral services.

  • Lifetime gifts or gifts at death to your church or other charities that support your beliefs is an excellent way to share your beliefs through your estate planning. There are many stories of a child’s wound being healed or heart softened because of the opportunity to work with the charitable organization as a result of a parent’s charitable gift.

  • Parents of minor or disabled children should select someone who shares their religious views to manage the inheritance of and care for the needs of their children. A letter of instruction can be prepared to the guardian that includes your views on the care and upbringing of your children including the importance of religion and faith.

  • Language can be included in your estate planning documents that encourages reconciliation and mediation in the event of disputes and discourages contentious litigation. This could include requiring mediation by a mediator certified by an organization that recognizes a faith based approach to mediation.

Conclusion

Your estate planning documents and the decisions you make can be a witness to your faith and beliefs and leave an important spiritual legacy. As always, teaching is about both word and deed. As you begin the estate planning process or consider revising your existing plan, please think about how you can incorporate your faith and values into that plan. If you do so the gift will truly be priceless.


This Newsletter is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between Hallock & Hallock and the reader.