Many parents hope to pass their values onto their children and grandchildren. Often one of the most important values that they hope to pass on are values based on religion and spirituality. In some cases, religious values are so important to a parent that they will even include mention of these values in their estate planning documents. Our firm strongly believes that an estate plan is not just about money, but about leaving a legacy, and we often encourage our clients to include mention of their values–religious or otherwise.
Formalizing a legacy of values is not always as easy as leaving a financial legacy, however; and there is a limit to how far a parent or grandparent can go in dictating religious values to their heirs. Being too restrictive in an estate plan in an effort to pass on religious values–choosing to disinherit children who marry outside the faith, for example–can often create divisions within a family and spark extended, costly legal battles, all while failing to have any true impact on your heirs’ beliefs. In addition, many of these clauses have historically been poorly drafted and violate the public policy of the freedom to marry and are stricken by courts.
One of the most common value-imposing strategies used by parents in estate planning is to require that children marry within a certain faith in order to receive their inheritance. This strategy has worked in some instances, for example, in 2009 the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the decisions of lower courts and unanimously ruled that Max Feinberg, and his wife, Erla, could legally cut off their grandchildren who chose to marry outside of the Jewish religion.