This blog has been written by Najib Painda, Law Clerk at Fasken LLP
Religious and cultural values in Estate Planning
As an immigrant growing up in different parts of the Greater Toronto Area, I was fortunate enough to be part of and experience diverse communities which embraced different ethnicities, cultures and religious beliefs. As a result, my relationships expanded to include the people around me within a melting pot of multi-cultural and multi-religious communities. I learned that most religious or cultural principles of a community stem from particular laws that govern how its members should uphold the main principles and how they should fulfill those duties.
Moving forward to present day, I am still in touch with the said communities. Occasionally, friends and family ask me if the principles they hold sacred will conflict with how common estate planning documents are drafted. For example, I have been asked about religious concerns over the disposition of assets since certain groups have their own interpretation of religious laws of inheritance. Another question I have frequently been asked relates to the issue of refusing specific medical procedures and if it will interfere with the end of life decision. Concerns such as this should not prevent someone from doing proper estate planning and it remains important for all individuals to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning lawyer who can and should create a unique plan that incorporates and respects that person’s beliefs and values.
Objectives for an estate planner
In order to serve clients in a comprehensive manner, an estate planner must draft legal documents by way of asking questions and more importantly, listening with an open mind, especially since some requests may seem non-standard. Individuals who follow legal doctrines of their religion or the nature and spirits of their cultural ancestors require due attention and focus to understand and ultimately record their intentions in relevant legal documents. To draft a Will for example, provisions must accommodate the rules of what a valid Will requires, as well as statutory and common law obligations that may arise, while also adhering to the religious and culturally driven intentions of the client.
These topics should be discussed but also approached with caution, as addressing these questions may result in a very sensitive conversation. Ultimately, being sensitive to a client’s cultural and religious background will allow the estate planner to have a deeper understanding of their client’s objectives which is an integral component of estate planning.
Estate planning is not always about transmission of wealth. Sometimes the transmission of values is equally important or more so. Some individuals may, depending on their particular observance, follow stricter rules on governing their choices based on religion or culture.
An estate planning lawyer should carefully craft an estate plan that is unique and inclusive of these relevant concerns to ensure each individuals’ goals and needs are met.
Many faith groups have prepared basic guides for their members to understand how their beliefs might impact estate planning and end of life decisions. These are very common in most places of worship and community organizations that keep a community together. Accordingly, clients often will come prepared with some knowledge of the law but it is up to the experienced estate planner to guide them to the right direction while effectively and respectfully serving the clients’ needs and being considerate of their values.