CONSIDERING YOUR FAITH AND VALUES IN ESTATE PLANNING

By Cory Howes

coryFor many of our clients, passing along their religious beliefs and values to subsequent generations is just as important as passing along financial wealth and tangible assets. Estate planning creates multiple avenues for expressing your faith and values in highly impactful ways for your family.

With end-of-life planning, you can empower a loved one—via healthcare power of attorney—to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make them yourself. Your designated decision-maker can be someone who shares your faith and values about end-of-life issues or someone who will honor your wishes. You should provide written instructions, addressing different issues and scenarios, placing them in the context of your faith and values. These topics can include organ donation, pain medication (some may want to remain conscious at the end of life), hospice arrangements, even avoiding care in a specific facility. You may desire hospital and/or home visits from clergy. Women may want to plan for future pregnancies, including their preferences on medical decisions that would impact them and their unborn children.

With regard to funeral and burial arrangements, a person’s faith can heavily influence their views and needs on burial, cremation, autopsy, and even embalming. Certainly, your faith may also influence certain details in a funeral or memorial service, such as asking for clergy to speak or for certain music to be played, as well as the venue for services to be held. Some people pre-plan their services and include a list of people to notify—this can be extremely helpful for a grieving family. Some prudent planners even pre-pay for their funeral and burial plots to prevent their loved ones from overspending out of grief and/or guilt.

Giving to others who are less fortunate is a hallmark of many faiths, and the devout among us often want to make final distributions to a church or synagogue. They may also seek to support offshoots of the church, such as universities, hospitals, and orphanages.

Taking the time to plan how your assets are left to your family members is another way to convey your values. Many will provide for religious education for children and grandchildren. Parents may select guardians who share their values as the providers of the best home for their children in the event of their death. Letters of instruction to guardians can provide a roadmap to executing your wishes that they raise your children with certain values reinforced, often influenced by your faith.

As a cautionary note, while many people tend to plan “around” those in their families who don’t share their faith (such as conditionally disinheriting children and grandchildren based on marrying outside the faith), it’s inadvisable as a way to positively reinforce your faith legacy. Emotional scars and legal battles can weigh heavily on a family, undermining a legacy of faith and values that took years and generations to build.

Transferring your faith and values, in all the ways you can, is best done over time. Let your family see your faith at work in your life, through religious services, and by setting an example of charity to others. It’s never too late to make a plan that reflects who you are and what you desire your family to carry on in your death. Empower them by talking to them and expressing your feelings in writing, or even make a video that they can keep long after you’re gone.

We enjoy working with families looking to make a lasting impression on their loved ones for generations to come. If you have questions or want to get started, please do not hesitate to contact me.