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Secular or religious? Your estate can reflect your beliefs.

While most individuals are familiar with the secular features of an estate, they may not realize that their religious concerns can be addressed during estate planning. Religious practices and beliefs can serve as a guide in choosing fiduciaries, distributing funds and resolving disputes.

Here are three ways in which religious affiliation may be addressed in the estate:

1. Choosing fiduciaries

Those selected to promote the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries can be chosen for adherence to a religious institution. Individuals with close ties to beneficiaries should be considered for the role because the fiduciary is responsible for keeping the beneficiaries fully informed of estate matters. Should the fiduciary be given the role of the trust protector, he can apply knowledge of religious practices to disburse funds or resolve conflicts along religious lines.

2. Disbursing funds

As a trust protector, the fiduciary may designate which funds will be used for tuition for parochial schools, mission trips, scholarships or donations to an organization that supports the goals of the religious institution. Additionally, he can determine which funds should be distributed according to religious requirements, such as tithing. Certain faiths have established protocol for disbursing an inheritance. Directions can be incorporated into a will to reflect religious directives.

3. Conflict resolution

Should conflict arise over the fund or asset disbursement, religious mediators can be used to resolve issues. Such intermediaries are responsible for resolving conflicts along three lines: the technical, humane and spiritual. Technical knowledge of mediation is used to guide the proceedings. The mediator also needs to be aware of the impact that emotional and personal issues have on the problem. While acknowledging the human element, the faith-based mediator ultimately relies on religious guidelines to establish a just outcome. For those of the Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Mormon or Islamic faith, the resolution of conflict will vary according to accepted religious laws.

Religious beliefs can also guide the drafting of living wills and investment protocols. Those interested in incorporating faith-based instructions in their estate should seek the advice of a knowledgeable attorney.

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