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Can you pass your religious beliefs on to your heirs? Part 2

In this two-part post, we are discussing how New Jersey residents can leave spiritual legacies through estate planning. Arguably, the best way for those with deeply-held religious beliefs to pass on their faith to their heirs would be to impart those values while they are alive. That could involve, for example, providing education for your children and grandchildren, or taking part in family discussions concerning religious and moral values.

For those with deep religious convictions, it is a fundamental and expected part of estate planning to ensure that personal religious choices are honored in a wide array of areas, including:

  • End-of-life health care
  • Organ donation
  • Funeral, burial and cremation arrangements
  • Charitable bequests
  • Distribution of assets among your heirs and beneficiaries

Careful and thoughtful estate planning can clarify your wishes so they will be honored. Any specific desires should be spelled out with as much detail as possible in order to avoid any confusion. This is especially true when it comes to your own religious needs at the end of your life, such as religious services you may desire should you be unable to speak for yourself.

Bequests to religious institutions can be handled through estate planning, as well as end-of-life care choices such as what medical treatment you desire should you become incapacitated. For example, you may want to consider adding a clause in your will to ensure that appropriate clergy is consulted before any end-of-life decisions are made.

Making sure your own religious beliefs are honored at the time of your death is a fundamental part of estate planning. Valid estate planning directives meant to affect the behavior of your beneficiaries, however, can be complicated. Most states, including New Jersey, have modeled their estate laws on the Uniform Probate Code, which has strict rules on the disinheritance of children through wills.

Generally, however, people of faith are not seeking to disinherit their children altogether, but to make any inheritance contingent upon certain actions. In such a case, assets can be deposited into a well-drafted contingent trust, with the trustee directed to distribute the assets only when particular events have occurred or actions have been taken.

Such trusts, if well-drafted, can be upheld by courts. Nevertheless, they can lead to litigation -- a cost you should keep in mind even if your trust would ultimately hold up in court.

Attempting to build understanding and consensus during your lifetime is the best thing you can do to reduce the risk that one or more of your beneficiaries will fight your estate plan in court. In addition to taking action now, consider leaving a personal letter or a videotape to explain your beliefs and reasoning.

Source: MarketWatch, "Can you make your heirs honor your beliefs?" Rachel Emma Silverman, Nov. 13, 2012

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