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Traditional or Orthodox views of Jewish estate planning require young Jewish families to contemplate how they wish to address religious issues in their financial and estate plans. There are several Judaism branches, including Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist.
Interpreting the following Orthodox estate planning viewpoint can be amended through Rabbi (Rav) consultation. They can help determine if your approach is appropriate for your faith and if your estate plan complies with Jewish law (Halacha).
Estate Planning Basics
There are important religious factors to incorporate into secular estate planning for young Jewish families.
Drafting or amending an up-to-date will is crucial for young families with children. Not only does it specify asset distribution upon your death, but it permits the designation of guardians for your minor children, incorporating your Jewish faith.
Identifying the right guardian for your minor children will include selecting someone who shares your religious values, beliefs, and parenting style. Discuss these topics with potential guardian candidates to ensure they are willing and capable of assuming this responsibility.
Trusts can be valuable estate planning tools, especially for young families. Establishing a trust allows you to protect and manage your assets for the benefit of your children. You can specify when and how the assets will be distributed to them. A trust can provide financial stability and ensure your wishes are carried out while helping minimize estate taxes and avoiding the probate process.
Orthodox Halachic laws designate specific inheritances to males rather than females. An estate planning attorney specializing in secular and Jewish law can find specific workarounds that make it possible to incorporate female inheritance while remaining faithful to Halachic principles.
Life insurance is often recommended for your families to provide financial protection in the event of an untimely death of a spouse or parent. A death benefit can help replace lost income, cover debts, and fund children’s education expenses that meet specific religious criteria. Life insurance benefits transfer under designated beneficiary status and permits quick access to funds in the event of a contested will or other probate issues.
Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney
Designating a health care proxy and granting someone power of attorney is essential to an estate plan. However, under Halachic law, the decisions you make are of paramount importance to follow your faith.
A health care proxy permits someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your selected representative should be familiar with the tenants of Judaism and your personal beliefs and medical wishes.
Similarly, if you become incapacitated, a power of attorney grants someone the authority to manage your financial and legal affairs. Again, choosing an individual to represent your interests that follow the tenants of your faith and personal wishes is particularly important.
Philanthropy and Tzedakah
Jewish tradition places significant emphasis on charitable giving. Proper legal inclusion that satisfies secular and religious laws can help you make valuable philanthropic plans to support causes and organizations that align with your values and Jewish heritage. You can establish charitable trusts or include specific bequests in your will.
Jewish Funeral Components
Five essential components comprise a Jewish funeral. They are:
- Tahara, or ritual washing of the body – The decedent’s body is prepared for burial by the Chevra Kaddisha before the funeral. The ritual washing and dressing of the body while reciting prayers and being placed in a kosher casket is conducted by men to men and women to women.
- Kriah, or the rending of garments – The tearing one’s clothing or cutting a black ribbon worn on clothes as an expression of grief and anger at losing a loved one.
- Kavod, or paying respects – Accompanying the casket to its final resting place, beginning with a gathering at the funeral home, synagogue, or gravesite before burial. Loved ones will recite Psalms and talk about the deceased.
- Kevurah, or burial – The burial in a Jewish cemetery will include reciting of Kaddish and prayers by the mourners.
- Nechama, or condolence – Before leaving the gravesite, those gathered form a pathway of rows for mourners to leave. As they pass by, the congregation will console them.
These funeral arrangements can be left in a letter of last instructions that details your wishes following Jewish funeral traditions.
Jewish Legal (Halachic) Issues
A secular estate, financial, and retirement plan can be amended to address religious issues. While working with an estate planning attorney specializing in blending secular and Jewish law, some problems may require consulting a Rabbinic authority. How a young family wishes to address religious issues in their estate plan varies.
There are numerous Halachic perspectives and laws to integrate, including the following:
- Addressing the Jewish laws of inheritance (Yerusha), your estate planning attorney can create a legal document conforming to secular distribution law to include Jewish law. For example, a Shtar Chatzi Zachar can distribute an inheritance to daughters while remaining Halachic compliant.
- Creating or modifying an existing living will/health care proxy to comply with Halachic law.
- Explaining if, when, and for what purpose it is permissible to be an organ donor.
- Funding education costs of Yeshiva instead of public school or children studying in Israel for a year and paying for religious summer camp in tax-advantaged ways.
- Remaining compliant with the laws of Ribbis regarding interest-bearing loans or deposits by using a Heter Iska, which restructures an interest-bearing loan to an investment, thus remaining compliant with Halachic law.
- Planning a burial that complies with Kevurah in Eretz Yisroel.
Addressing these and other Halachic concerns requires more than signing a few standard forms. Amending these forms will depend upon the branch of Judaism you follow and consultation with your Rabbi. Failing to create an estate plan incorporating Jewish religious perspectives can create future estate issues and family inheritance problems.
Consulting With the Right Professionals
Consult with knowledgeable professionals, whether clerical or secular, to create an estate plan that meets state and religious law. One without the other can create family turmoil that may lead to litigation. An estate planning attorney familiar with Jewish estate plans can help you meet religious goals while still following the laws of your state.
Regularly review and update your plan as circumstances change, such as the birth of a child, changes in financial status, or modifications in your religious or personal preferences. Creating and maintaining a family estate plan based on the tenants of Judaism while you are young will make moving into middle age and retirement much easier to protect your spouse and children’s future.
We hope you found this article helpful. If you have questions or would like to discuss a personal legal matter, please contact our office at 732-972-1600. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.