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.

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