Baha'i Wills and Payment of the Right of God - Huququ'llah

How should a person provide for payment of the Right of God in his or her will?  The starting point for questions about the Right of God is to carefully study the guidance prepared by the Universal House of Justice, found HERE.

Secondly, contact your Huququ'llah Representative. If you are in the USA please contact:

Bahá’í Huqúqu’lláh Trust
P.O. Box 697
Wilmette, IL 60091
email: secretariat at ushuquq dot org

Third, look for additional guidance from the World Centre. For example, an attorney who was writing wills asked a number of questions which were answered by the World Centre HERE.

As to general guidance on writing Baha'i wills, for U.S. Baha'is the National Spiritual Assembly has provided guidance in the form of a free downloadable booklet, "The Writing of a Will - A Spiritual Obligation." This is only accessible to Baha'is in the USA. To obtain a copy, log in to the US Baha'i administrative website HERE
with your US Baha'i ID number and password
and after you log in, click on this link .
which is visible to US Baha'is who have logged in.

Then scroll down halfway and click on the words:
Information about the Writing of a Will

and you will download the then-current version of this document. As you will see, there are other relevant documents on that page.

Guidance from the Universal House of Justice on the Drawing up of Baha'i Wills

These pages are copied from Volume II of the published Messages of the Universal House of Justice. Click on the images below and they can be downloaded and viewed in larger typeface.

This wonderful book of divine guidance can be purchased HERE

Preparation For Writing A Baha'i Will

Children - the most important reason to write a will properly.
After the carrying out of the Baha'i law, this may be the most important reason to have a properly-drafted will. If you have minor children you need to decide, in a legally-binding way, who will raise them if you pass away. In many states this person is called a "guardian" or a "legal guardian". This person may also have responsibility for managing the money for your children, or you can choose a different person to handle the money you leave for your children, generally called a "trustee." In this way if someone is good with children but not with money, you can set up one person as guardian and another person, or a bank trust department, as trustee to handle the money. In some states in the USA you can only name your children's guardian in a will and testament; any other document will be legally void. In other states, you can leave a non-testamentary document designed for the purpose of naming your children's guardian.
The law of will and trustees and guardians is complex, and varies state by state. You need to save up or borrow money, hire a good lawyer and have it done right. Otherwise, someone your choice for legal guardian of your children may not be the one who actually does so.

How do I find a good lawyer to write my will?
Most lawyers will write a will for you; but they greatly vary in competence. If you can find someone who's been writing wills for a long time; or who only does estate planning, you are likely to have more success. Ask the state bar in your state if it certifies lawyers as experts or specialists in estate planning; most states do not, but if yours does, you are very likely to get a good lawyer. Or, look for a bank in your area that has a trust department, and ask the trust officer to recommend a lawyer. Banks use good lawyers. If you are wealthy, you need more than a will - you need a proper estate plan. You need wealth planning, planned giving, probably insurance policies to pay taxes upon death - a complex plan that is beyond the knowledge of most lawyers. To get a good recommendation for a lawyer who knows how to write a proper estate plan that builds the estate and properly minimizes taxes, ask several investment firms for a recommendation - they recommend capable people. Generally lawyers who are also CPA's are good for estate planning, but if you are wealthy, ask an investment counselor for a recommendation - ask several. I do not have any attorney recommendations. One service a spiritual assembly can render would be to look for one and educate one in Baha'i provisions.

Do I need a Baha'i lawyer?
No.  Look for skill. There are a few parts of a Baha'i will that are religious in nature, but any lawyer can consult others to get up to speed on these. Estate planning lawyers are familiar with writing religious provisions in wills.

Will you answer my questions about wills?
Only if they are posted publicly to this website. For reasons that are lengthy to explain, to avoid a conflict of interest I cannot enter into an attorney-client relationship with a Baha'i. I therefore cannot even read questions that are privately sent to me - because this creates a confidential attorney-client relationship. However, questions posted to the Internet are obviously not confidential - so ask away in the comments section below, and if I know I'll respond in a comment. Please do not call or write to me privately - I will not be able to respond or even read your message, and I request that you honor this. I am intentionally not identifying myself. I will only say that I am a Baha'i in good standing with the National Spiritual Assembly in Wilmette and Evanston, Illinois. More than one Baha'i lawyer may post to this blog.

Should I put the provisions about my burial in my will?
The answer varies state-by-state. In some states the will is not the best place to put burial provisions; sometimes writing up a separate burial instruction signed in front of a Notary, and also putting the burial provisions in your Health Care Power of Attorney, are much more likely to result in your wishes being carried out. Often the will is not filed in court - which gives it legal authority - until long after the burial. However, any legal document you write may be insufficient to guarantee that your burial wishes will be carried out. The reason for this is that all of these documents have to do with your estate - and in about half the states in the USA, the body of a deceased person is not a part of his or her estate. In those states, the body of the deceased becomes the property of the next of kin - no matter what the will or burial instruction says. Therefore, the advice of the Universal House of Justice contains the greatest wisdom: Talk to your family about your burial wishes. And if you want a proper burial, provide an insurance policy or fund that will pay for it.

What about a "simple will"?
I haven't seen many of those. Most people say that they just want "a simple will" but invariably they have a child or grandchild with special needs; or property in another state; or something that takes it out of the category of "simple."

I keep putting this off.
That's a dangerous thing to do. I've known more than one person who died without completing their will - and then their closest loved ones did not get their property.

Is a will the only way to provide for people?
No. For example let's say you have a life insurance policy through your employment. Typically, your beneficiary is your spouse, then your children or other relatives. (If you leave anything to a minor child, you have to name a trustee - and a good insurance agent will help you set this up properly - or better yet, do it as part of your estate plan with the guidance of a good lawyer.) But you can set up, for example, the National Baha'i Fund as a partial beneficiary of your life insurance - e.g., 75% to your spouse or children, 25% to the Fund. This is very easy to do. However, if you have a lawyer write your estate plan the insurance policies may be interwoven with the will - so you should contact your lawyer to make sure you don't mess anything up. Another way to provide money to people after your passing is to name them as the beneficiary of a bank account or investment account. For example, when you buy a CD the bank will ask you who the POD "Payable On Death" beneficiary will be. This can be a person, or the trust for your minor children - or the National Fund. Talk to a lawyer to make sure it's done right, if you hired a lawyer to write your estate plan.

What are some of the dangers of doing this myself?
Let's say that you are divorced and have re-married. You have a $200,000 life insurance policy or a $200,000 CD. In your will you provide that half of your estate goes to your present spouse and the other half to your children; and nothing goes to your former spouse.  However, at the time you purchased the life insurance or CD you set up your former spouse as the beneficiary - and you forget to change that when you remarry. Guess what?  Your second spouse gets nothing. That's because some documents overrule your will and testament. Your unawareness of this one thing should prove to you that you do not want to write your own will, or plan for your family's future without proper professional advice.

These are admittedly random thoughts, but these days I am busy with two jobs and other responsibilities, so I want to get something up on the Net on this subject. I hope that it is thought-provoking, and that it leads people to take steps now to get their estate in order.

Should I write my own will?

A surprising reason to not write your own will: It might be valid.

In order to properly write a will and testament, you need to understand something about the legal nature of the property you are disposing of. Let's take an example. Let's say that you marry, and you take out a life insurance policy naming your spouse as 100% beneficiary. Then you divorce and remarry, and you now want your entire estate to go to your new spouse. In your will you leave your entire estate to spouse #2. You even say, in your will, "I direct the entire proceeds of all life insurance to go to spouse #2"-- but you don't change the form at the insurance company.

In all likelihood, your second spouse would not get a dime of the life insurance. That's because you have left conflicting instructions. You have filled out a legal document -- a will -- instructing that your life insurance proceeds go to your new spouse. However, you have also left a legally-binding instruction to your insurance company, to pay the life insurance proceeds to spouse #1. Most of the time, the law provides that what you told the insurance company supersedes what's in your will, even though you are divorced from spouse #1.

The same thing is true if you set up a bank account, brokerage account, or CD / certificate of deposit. Whenever you open a bank account, the banker asks you to name a person or institution to receive the funds in your account, in the event of your death (the "death beneficiary" or "POD", "payable on death" beneficiary). Let's say that when you opened the account, you designated your sister as the death beneficiary of your bank account. Later, you marry, and now you want everything to go to your new spouse, not to your sister. In your will, you state that your entire estate, including all bank accounts, are to be given to your spouse--but you don't go to the bank and change the death beneficiary form. In most jurisdictions, when you die, your spouse won't get a dime of that money in the bank, your sister will get it all; and that's because what you write on the death beneficiary form at the bank, supersedes what you put in your will.

So this gets complicated. There are similar issues with your real estate, your vehicles, your retirement accounts -- and you need proper legal advice to make sure that everything happens the way you want it to.

This is over and above the really important provisions in your will: Who will raise your minor children if you die? You have to do this right, the first time.

My advice: Don't write your own will. It might be a perfectly valid and legally binding will -- that won't be within driving distance of doing what you want it to. I suggest that you demonstrate your love for your family by hiring a skilled attorney, and getting it done right.

Top Ten Reasons for a Baha'i to Write a Will

Top ten reasons why every Baha'i should write a will:

1. It is a presently-binding law of the Most Holy Book

2. It has effect in this world and in the spiritual world (" in the kingdoms of Revelation and Creation" )

3. A will can keep unity in your family. Everyone will know exactly what your wishes are, and this can eliminate disputes.

4. You can provide for a trusted person to raise your minor children. In some states in the USA, the only legally-binding way to designate such a person, known as a Guardian, or a Guardian of the Person, is in your last will and testament; in those jurisdictions, no other document will accomplish this (every jurisdiction is different, you have to verify).

5. You can provide for payment of unpaid Huququ'llah, the obligation of The Right of God.

6. You can provide for a Baha'i funeral and burial.

7. You can make a gift to the Baha'i Fund. You can specify a dollar amount (“$10,000 to the Baha'i National Fund, c/o National Spiritual Assembly, Wilmette, Cook County, Illinois”); you can direct investment property to the National Spiritual Assembly (highly advisable to do this in concert with your National Spiritual Assembly, which may have specific guidance); or you can leave a percentage of your estate to the Fund (“19% of my estate to the National Spiritual Assembly”) or earmarked for a specific purpose (“19% of my estate to the National Spiritual Assembly earmarked for summer school scholarships for needy Baha'is”).

8. You can control the flow of money to family members, directing funds to be paid at certain intervals, or on the occurrence of specific events. This is particularly necessary for minor children, children attending school, children with special needs, children who are not good at handling money.

9. You can leave specific items of sentimental or spiritual value to your loved ones (favorite items of jewelry, memorabilia, Baha'i books and rings). This is also important if you want to leave anything to someone outside of your family. After you die, people can't read your mind--only your will.

10. You can sometimes reduce taxes

"Unto everyone hath been enjoined the writing of a will"

Unto everyone hath been enjoined the writing of a will. The testator should head this document with the adornment of the Most Great Name, bear witness therein unto the oneness of God in the Dayspring of His Revelation, and make mention, as he may wish, of that which is praiseworthy, so that it may be a testimony for him in the kingdoms of Revelation and Creation and a treasure with his Lord, the Supreme Protector, the Faithful.
Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, Paragraph 109