Estate Planning and Religion

When engaging in estate planning for individuals, attorneys must be diligent in asking the right questions, not only for financial purposes and the objects of one’s bounty, but also for religious beliefs and practices and to complete the planning by honoring the wishes of the individual doing their planning.  If you are doing your estate planning, don’t be intimidated or shy when stating your wishes to your attorney. 

So, what are some areas that are important to be recognized in estate planning, according to religion? 

First of all, the selection of fiduciaries is important to anyone doing their estate planning.  Deeply religious individuals may wish to have trustees, executors and agents under powers of attorney and health care directives who are strong in their religious beliefs and who share the same faith.  However, this person may not be the choice for investing and other responsibilities that come along with the role.  Selection of persons to fulfill these fiduciary roles is extremely important. 

Next, let’s look at a few important considerations impacted by religious beliefs:

  • Are there provisions for specific priority of distribution of one’s assets based upon relationship?
  • What are the beliefs with regard to end-of-life matters?  Be kept alive regardless of the prognosis or allow nature to take its course, and, if so, what comfort measures are permitted? 
  • Is organ donation permissible?  If so, are there limitations on the allowable organs for donation? 
  • Funeral arrangements and timing?  Is embalming allowed?  Is cremation permitted?  Manner for interment or disposition of cremains?

These are but a few very important matters which should be addressed in your estate planning.  To ensure that your beliefs and wishes are carried out, there should be a form of a statement of last wishes prepared and left, not with your Last Will and Testament, but where your fiduciaries can easily locate the same and be informed to carry out your wishes. 

While estate planning is done between the client and the attorney, it is important that once you have completed your planning, you let your fiduciaries know where to find documentation for guidance and perhaps consider having a conversation with them as to your wishes.  You want to avoid something being done against your wishes when it is too late. 

Please do not assume that your attorney knows what your beliefs are.  Within any religion, practices range from very conservative to very liberal and the only way to ensure that your practices are fulfilled is to be open with your attorney.  Ask them for their suggestion on how to make your wishes known to your loved ones. 

Communicating with loved ones with regard to estate planning is so important.  While your fiduciaries may be very much loved and respected, why would you want to place the burden on them to know what your wishes are without you sharing the same? 

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Kay Sowa

About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner®, and a Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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