For many, our moral and ethical views are some of the strongest perspectives we hold. Your estate plan is one method for living your faith and/or values. Trusts can possibly provide significant benefits as you use your estate plan to aid a person or entity in the furtherance of a religious or charitable mission. You can ensure that your end of life decisions reflect your values by careful planning with regard to your living will and healthcare power of attorney.
The decisions you make in your estate plan are a part of the reflection of who you are. One way to demonstrate your values is through estate planning. These decisions can go well beyond just remembering a values-based charity in the distribution of your assets, but can impact a wide range of elements of your plan.
One straightforward way to bestow this benefit is through including a distribution in your will or living trust that goes directly to the cause of your choice. You might choose to help a church, a church-connected charitable organization or a religious educational institution. Others might prefer to demonstrate their values by benefiting a philanthropic entity that is not tied to any religious organization.
However, you also have other options available, as well. Special trusts, called charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts, may allow you to further the cause of your favorite religious or secular charity while also reducing your tax obligations. Charitable lead trusts can lower your current taxable income, while charitable remainder trusts can lower your potential capital gains tax obligations. For this reason, a charitable remainder trust may be especially useful if you have a charity you wish to aid and you have assets that have appreciated substantially since you bought them (such as real estate or stocks.) It is important that the IRS recognize the charity your wish to benefit, otherwise you may lose the tax-related benefits of your trust.
There are other ways to reflect your values in your plan. You can make some (or all) of the distributions from your living trust or will conditional on the beneficiary making certain choices or acting in a way consistent with your values. For example, you could make a cash distribution to a loved one conditional or his/her pursuing a religious education or you could distribute a piece of real estate to a beneficiary on the condition that the property be used only for the furtherance of a religious mission. You can also instruct that beneficiaries not use the assets they receive from you for anything that contradicts your values. Utilization of an incentive trust (or trusts) may be helpful if you want to incorporate such goals into your plan.
Finally, if you have strong views, based in your religious or ethical foundations, regarding end of life decisions, it is important to plan for those positions to be followed. You should communicate your preferences to your estate planning attorney and your loved ones, and when choosing an agent to act on your behalf under the power of your living will or healthcare power of attorney, you should strongly consider selecting someone who shares your perspectives and values regarding end of life decisions.