Incorporating Your Faith and Values into Your Planning

For many of my clients, passing along their religious beliefs and values to their children is just as important as passing along their wealth. Attending worship service with children, establishing a habit of daily prayer, teaching your children to save some and give away some of their earnings, or teaching your children to respond to adults with respect may not seem related to your end-of-life decisions. But there is no guarantee that you will be around to finish the job of molding your children or grandchildren into the adults that you know that they can be. Parents and grandparents who devoted their lives to passing on their values to their children often wish to do this in their estate planning. Sometimes the hardest decision is selecting the right guardian for their children in the case of the death or incapacity of both parents. Fortunately, there are many opportunities.

Distributions to Family Members. Taking the time to plan how assets are left to family members is an effective way to convey faith values. By creating trusts for your beneficiaries, you can determine how your hard-earned money can be used to make their life better rather than spoil them and make them unproductive. The possibilities are endless. You may use your wealth to create opportunities for your children to acquire advanced degrees, go on mission trips, pay for their wedding, buy their first house, adopt a child, or pay for their children’s education. You may supplement the earnings of a child who selects a career in education or ministry. One important tool that I use regularly is making the beneficiary a co-trustee. If you choose a trustee who shares your values, and give your child the opportunity to serve as co-trustee along with that person in their 20’s, your child should have a good understanding of your intentions by their mid-30s. Giving a young adult a large amount of money with no guidance can ruin their lives. By spending the time to create a written plan, you can ensure that your savings are used to promote your values, discourage unproductive behavior, provide financial training and provide a financial safety net.

Charitable Giving. Making testamentary gifts to a church, college, hospital or other favorite causes will convey the value of charitable giving to family members. There are numerous ways to structure gifts to ensure tax savings.   

End-of-Life Care. A health care power of attorney 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, hospice arrangements, or even avoiding care in a specific facility.

Funeral and Burial Arrangements.  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. ,This 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.

You cannot transfer faith and values to family members in your estate plan unless you have made it a priority in your life. But by letting your family see your faith at work in your life, worshipping together, and being charitable with your money now, you are building a legacy for your children that can be continued in your estate plan.