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Faith-based estate planning requires careful thought

Estate planning, as we constantly remind our readers, is a very personal endeavor. Any tools or techniques available in the planning process should be carefully matched to the needs and desires of each person and their family. One way this is evident is the various ways people seek to make religious faith part of their estate plan.

The issue of religious faith--which can affect a number of areas of estate planning--is one that can be polarizing and can cause significant rifts in families and complications later on down the road. While planning ahead can help calm the possibility of future disputes, it is also important also to think carefully about how one wants to fit religious convictions into one's plan.

As a recent Wall Street Journal article points out, problems often occur when parents with strong religious convictions base their children's inheritance on their marrying within their faith tradition. Such provisions are sometimes upheld by courts, but not without first sparking a number of legal battles among competing heirs.

Some estate planners advise their clients to avoid restrictive faith-based estate planning of this kind. One alternative to this approach is to leave money for children in trust and provide instructions for the trustee to make faith part of the distribution plan. In this approach, it may be best if the trustee share's the same religious faith.

Other areas where religious convictions can impact estate planning are end-of-life health care, organ donations, funeral, burial/cremation arrangements, and charitable bequests. Planning in these areas should emphasize spelling out one's wishes very specifically, and perhaps discussing one's decisions with family members. All of this will contribute toward making one's estate plan more successful.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Joining Church and Estate," Rachel Emma Silverman, April 30, 2012.

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