Silicon Valley Estate Planning Journal

News and Articles from the Law Offices of John C. Martin

Incorporating Faith and Values in Estate Planning

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For many, passing along religious beliefs and values to the
next generation is just as important as passing along financial wealth and
tangible assets. Estate planning creates many opportunities to do this,


* End-of-Life Care.
A health care power of attorney (Advance Directive in some states) lets you
name someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make
them yourself. This can be someone who shares your faith and values about
end-of-life issues or someone who will honor your wishes. In either case, it is
a good idea to provide written instructions about things like organ donation,
pain medication (some may want to remain conscious at the end of life), hospice
arrangements, even avoiding care in a specific facility. A visit by a priest,
rabbi or other member of clergy may be desired. Pregnant women may want to
include their preference on medical decisions that would impact the mother and
her unborn child.


* Funeral and Burial
  Faith can influence
views on burial, cremation, autopsy, even embalming. Faith may also influence
certain details in a funeral or memorial service. Some people pre-plan their
services and include a list of people to notify (which can be helpful for a
grieving family). Some even pre-pay for the funeral and burial plots to prevent
their loved ones from overspending out of grief and/or guilt.


* Charitable Giving.
Giving to others who are less fortunate is common among people of all faiths.
Making final distributions to a church or synagogue, university, hospital and
other favorite causes will convey the value of charitable giving to family


* Distributions to
Children and Grandchildren.
Taking the time to plan how assets are left to
family members lets them know how much they are loved, and is another way to
convey faith values. For example, providing for the religious education of
children and/or grandchildren speaks volumes. Parents of young children can
select someone who shares their religious views to manage the inheritance. A
letter of instruction to the guardian can include views on the care and
upbringing of young children, which are often influenced by faith.


If the children are older and a son- or daughter-in-law is
not fully trusted, an attorney can assist with providing for a son or daughter
in a way that will prevent an inheritance from falling into the wrong hands.
However, making an inheritance conditional or disinheriting a child or
grandchild who marries outside the faith or doesn’t share their parent’s faith
can backfire. We cannot really force someone to believe as we do, and trying to
do so by withholding an inheritance will only create discord in the family and
may not be recognized. The emotional scars on the family, especially if a
bitter legal fight results, are probably not what parents want for their


Transferring faith and values to family members is best done
over time, by letting them see your faith at work in your life, taking them to
religious services, and letting them see you being charitable. But it’s never
too late. Talk to your family while you can. Explain what your faith means to
you and how it has helped you through difficult moments in your life. You can
also write personal letters or make a video that they can keep and review long
after you are gone.

If you have more questions or require counsel, contact our Estate Planning Attorneys, serving Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Los Altos, and surrounding areas. 

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