Firm News - Melnik Law Group, PLLC

Is There a Downside to Religious Estate Planning?

Posted by Steven Melnik on Mar 7, 2013 9:59pm PST

Some people have found that passing down your religious beliefs down to your heirs can be difficult. The question remains whether or not to leave religious stipulations out of your estate plan.

In many cases when people begin drafting their estate plan, it is not just about passing on their financial assets and real estate property, it can also carry a deeper meaning of wanting their heirs to honor their religious beliefs and values. Some examples of intermingling religious beliefs into estate planning would be how to approach their end-of-life care, whether not they will donate their organs, having a religious burial service, and how the assets will be distributed including any charitable donations.

Passing on religious values however, can be a tricky task and many times emotional family disputes may stem from this type of estate planning. When people decide to implement restrictive clauses in their estate plan in their effort to encourage religious values, a great division in the family could arise. An example of this would be if the trust maker decides to disinherit their children if they so happen to marry someone from outside the faith. This was made evident in a 2009 Supreme Court case where they unanimously ruled that the Jewish man and his wife could legally cut their children out of their inheritance if they decided to marry outside of the Jewish religion. Many courts do honor provisions of this nature, especially if they discourage the issue of divorce.

This type of limitation however, can easily spark an ugly legal battle between heirs. That is why estate planning and probate professionals have encouraged alternative ways for estate planners to pass on their spiritual legacy. In order to avoid legal challenges, the alternative could be for the planner to impart their religious values to their family members throughout their lifetime, instead of imposing it after their death. This would be in hopes that after openly educating their children and close family relatives, their values would be upheld and continue on in their legacy. How a family is raised, what schools or religious constitution they are involved in, says a lot about their foundation. This type of influence will also affect the behavior of descendants naturally, rather than putting a constrictive clause in the will.

Other alternatives to including strict provisions intended to penalize heirs of the will, planners could appoint a trustee to manage the distribution of the money that they leave behind in the trust. This way they can lay out careful criteria for them to follow, but it is important that they choose a trustee who shares the same religious values and also wants them to see those values upheld. They could also include a personal letter or video in the will, explaining and outlining the religious beliefs that they hold dear. Planners are encouraged to do this in hopes that it will help their heirs to appreciate and understand their values and hopefully minimize any potential future disputes.

For planners who hold high religious morals and beliefs but do not want to cause family controversy, you could instead consider leading by example. At The Melnik Law Group, PLLC, they offer comprehensive approaches to personal strategic planning. Their New York estate and probate attorneys are dedicated to helping clients achieve peace of mind by carefully planning and preparing for the future. Aside from estate planning, the firm handles a multitude of estate administration and probate matters for clients throughout the state of New York. If you are facing a will contest or you are involved in a family probate dispute, they can offer assertive litigation on your behalf. To learn how the Melnik Law Group can help you, contact their New York office today.