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Religious values and estate planning can go hand-in-hand

Some people may assume that, despite living a life congruent to their values and deeply felt religious beliefs, that their estate plan (being a legal document) cannot incorporate their ethical and moral considerations. Thankfully, that isn't the case. There are ways in which you can protect your assets and yourself through estate planning while still remaining true to your religion's tenets.

Particular considerations vary from faith to faith, with some religions putting more of an emphasis on charitable giving after death, and some showing more concern for passing along a good financial and moral legacy to loved ones. There could also be a desire to ensure that religious education options are available to any minor children; this, too, can be handled with an effective estate plan.

In addition, some faiths have important views on end-of-life care. If strictly adhered to, these could affect someone's options when it comes to living wills/advance directives and health care powers of attorney. A few faiths (including the U.S. Council on Catholic Bishops) have provided sanctioned sample forms that incorporate key tenets while still respecting legal requirements. These can be modified and incorporated into an estate plan by a skilled estate planning attorney to ensure that they are legally binding.

Asset protection and disposition concerns

Some religions (Judaism, Orthodox Christian, Baha'I and Islam, to name a few) have particular views on how inheritance must be handled to respect vital teachings. This can be very important to those who strictly adhere to their preferred faith, but it must also be done legally and properly to ensure that problems don't arise for heirs down the road. Issues that must be considered include potential tax consequences for both the testator and the heirs, the best estate planning method to ensure the best result, and business succession planning.

Handling disputes

Some religions prefer that disputes between family members, even those that arise because of a legal transaction like an estate bequest, be handled via a form of arbitration before a panel of religious experts. This may not be appropriate in all situations, but it might be possible to have a judicially approved arbitration panel that includes a religious advisor. Such special instructions as these can be written into the estate planning documents themselves so that they will be legally binding upon heirs and executors/trustees.

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