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Creating Advance Directives that Honor Your Religious Wishes

According to the Pew Research Center, Americans are largely devout in their religious beliefs. Specifically, the Center found that:

“Two-thirds of the public agrees with [the following statements]: (1) prayer is an important part of their daily life; (2) we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day; and (3) they never doubt[ed] the existence of God.”

It is quite telling that approximately 67% of all Americans feel this way. Further, it sends a strong message to Florida elder law attorneys who deal with preserving the wishes of seniors every day. In fact, many religions have specific requirements and beliefs that make estate planning a unique and delicate process. Consider the following unique challenges.

Medical Treatment Limitations

Some religions limit the type of treatment their members may receive. One obvious example is the worldwide organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that the Bible strictly prohibits partaking of blood products. Therefore, due to their interpretation of scripture, they do not allow blood transfusions. Although many have wavered in times of crisis, as a whole, the organization’s members typically stick to their guns when it comes to this issue. The organization provides its members with templates and language to use for creating advance medical directives. Members of such religions should carefully consider letting a local Florida elder law attorney review their wishes and incorporate them into an estate plan and powers of attorney that preserve their wishes while ensuring compliance with local and state customs and laws.

Limitations on Bequests Based on Religious Values

As highlighted by a 2009 Illinois Supreme Court case of Estate of Feinberg, some Americans, especially those of higher net worth, choose to limit which heirs may inherit by putting religious conditions in their wills and trusts. This case in particular included a Jewish man’s trust provision that stated if any of his heirs should marry outside the Jewish faith and the new spouse failed to convert within a year, that heir would be treated as though predeceased for all purposes. Thus, he made the Jewish faith a condition of inheritance. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld this provision.

Some courts, however, have refused to honor such conditions that encourage divorce and other conduct that is against public policy, such as requiring an heir to divorce a non-Jewish spouse. However, this case underscores the need for competent advice that can evaluate the best options for making such limitations.

Choosing a Guardian for Minor Children

Many people wish to put provisions in their wills that dictate who they prefer to act as a guardian for their minor children in the event something should happen to them. Although guardianship courts are not required to honor these requests, they do often consider them as strong evidence of the proposed guardian’s suitability. Absent evidence to the contrary, such as criminal convictions, lack of means to provide for the children, and similar problems, courts often will defer to the deceased parents’ choice of a guardian.

When guardianship is concerned, many wish for their children to continue being raised in the same faith they have promoted during their lives. However, to make such provisions work, estate planning attorneys often must be creative and include other types of documents that accompany the will, such as creating powers of attorney that allow the proposed guardians to act as successor agents.

Religious decisions are inherently personal, and many people are reluctant to bring their concerns to an attorney, especially one who may or may not share their beliefs. However, experienced elder law attorneys are skilled in providing solutions for all clients regardless of their unique and personal needs. Reach out to the Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group in the Villages for individualized help with your legal concerns.

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