By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD
Surveys of Americans always reveal that more than 90% believe in God or some higher power. But when it comes to estate planning, religious beliefs, personal philosophies, and other “soft” goals tend to be ignored in favor of more technical legal, tax, and other concerns. Some of the major reasons for this is that most people with religious or other philosophical objectives don’t communicate them to their estate planners, and most planners don’t have the knowledge to address the myriad of different beliefs that their clients might bring. Not only is this easily resolved, but it can minimize what for many families is a major cause of strife. It can assure that if you’ve lived your life in accord with a certain set of values, your estate planning will comport with those values. After all, estate planning should not just be about the transmission of wealth, but about the transmission of values too. You should formulate what your key religious or other goals are. Consider how they might affect your estate plan and documents, then discuss them with your religious or other advisers. Many religious groups have published basic guides for their adherents to understand how their beliefs might impact estate planning. Many have also published sample forms. Collect all of this before you consult with your lawyer. Also bear in mind that this level of customization is unlikely to be available from on line forms, and it may even be difficult for a general practice lawyer who does not specialize in estate planning, to address. Be direct and inquire whether the lawyer has previously customized planning and documents to address faith based objectives. If not, you might wish to find someone who has. It is less a concern whether they have addressed your particular faith (you’ll be bringing materials to them) then confirming that they have the sensitivity and interest to address these matters. The following discussion is very generic and is meant to merely illustrate how wide reaching religious implications can be to the planning process. The goal is to help you identify the topics you should think about and try to find information on before meeting with your attorney. No offense is intended for mentioning only selected religious and religious practices. Space limitations prevent more.
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