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How does religion play into estate planning?

Religious beliefs have a long reach when it comes to estate planning. They can impact a wide variety of estate planning decisions, such as your end-of-life healthcare instructions; your stance on organ donation; funeral instructions, including burial or cremation; and how you want to distribute assets among your loved ones and charities.

Any and all of these issues can lead to acrimony among family members, executors or trustees if not handled properly. So, having your religious wishes documented clearly in your estate planning documents is very important.

Six things you can do to ensure religious aspects of your estate plan are followed

Here are six ways you can make certain that your religious instructions are followed:

  • Choose a person whom you are certain shares your beliefs to act as the estate executor or trustee. Sometimes this means choosing someone other than a family member. Check with the person you want to ensure they are willing to serve as the executor or trustee of your estate.
  • Choose an executor or trustee who will be sensitive to the differing religious beliefs and overall well-being of your heirs.
  • Instruct your executor about how you want charitable giving to be handled. Make sure he or she will have the ability give funds for religious education, religious travel or other disbursements in accordance with your religious practices.
  • Consult with other experts when estate planning, such as tax advisors, financial planners and if applicable, business succession planners.
  • Make use of trusts if you have heirs whom you don't agree with religiously. Most experts agree that using your estate plan as a means to force your heirs to become more religious can have long-lasting negative impact on your family. If your grown children are not religious or married out of the faith, you can set up a trust to leave assets for specific people, like your grandchildren.
  • Specify if you wish estate disputes to be handled by religious means in your will. In the event of a dispute concerning your estate plan, you can ask in your will that it be resolved by a religious body such as a Beth Din for Jewish folks or the Baha'i for Buddhists.

Most religious folks take their faiths seriously, and seek to incorporate it into everything they do. Estate planning isn't an exception, and there are many options you can explore to ensure your estate plan aligns with your faith and the legacy you wish to leave. Working with an experienced estate lawyer can help ensure your wishes are clearly documented.

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