Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Vatican Publishes New Guidelines for Catholics Wishing to be Cremated

Burial v. cremationOn Tuesday, the Vatican published guidelines for Catholics who want to be cremated, requiring their remains not be scattered, divided up amongst relatives, or kept at home. Any remains must be stored in a sacred, church-approved place in order to remember the dead properly and prevent the appearance of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism.” The guidelines, however, state that burial remains the preferred method due to resurrection beliefs. 

See Vatican: No More Scattering of Cremation Ashes, Yahoo!, October 25, 2016. 

Special thanks to Logan Fuzetti (Attorney, The Woodlands, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  


October 26, 2016 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Article on Religion and End-of-Life Care

Religion end of lifeNaomi Cahn & Amy Ziettlow recently published an Article entitled, Religion and End-of-Life Decision-Making, 2016 U. Ill. L. Rev. 1713 (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

This Article analyzes the relationship between religion and end-of-life care. We examine the private role that religion plays in individuals’ decision-making processes and the public role that religion plays through state support. We first discuss how the law approaches these issues by looking at both the legal grounding and ratification of surrogates’ decisions, and at public funding for hospice chaplains, showing that the law supports an individual’s choices concerning the desired impact (or nonimpact) of religious beliefs and practices. We then show how these laws are interpreted and lived, specifically in how surrogates handle end-of-life decision-making, based on empirical data obtained directly through in-depth interviews with those who have experienced the death of their parents. Religion profoundly affects end-of-life decision-making on a personal level, and various laws support religious-based reasoning. On the other hand, the present uncertainties surrounding the application of Hobby Lobby can compound the traumatic experiences of those involved, regardless of their religious (or nonreligious) beliefs and practices. Solutions involve additional legal support for end-of-life conversations.


October 4, 2016 in Articles, Death Event Planning, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Article on Privatizing Religious Matters in Divorce and Inheritance

Family religionRobin Fretwell Wilson published an Article entitled, Privatizing Family Law in the Name of Religion, 18 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 925 (2010). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:

This Essay examines a movement across the world to allow fundamentalist religious norms, rather than state law, to govern family matters associated with divorce and inheritance. Such religious norms often depart significantly from the state’s protections for vulnerable dependents at two significant points: in divorce and in death. 

This Essay explores the risks to women and children, two particularly vulnerable groups, when religious couples enter into marriages that are recognized religiously, but not civilly, leaving little opportunity for state oversight. Without state oversight, women are bound by a religious community’s norms, a phenomenon now occurring in the Sharia courts that operate in Great Britain. These courts apply Islamic, not British, law to divorce and inheritance. The Essay also examines the system of shared jurisdiction in Western Thrace, where three Mufti decide family disputes for a Muslim minority. In both systems, the fundamentalist religious norms provide considerably less protection to individuals in two periods of great need, upon divorce and the death of a spouse. 

The Essay contends that the state plays a crucial role in protecting traditionally vulnerable groups. It shows that if certain schools of Islamic law govern divorce proceedings, women face the loss of custody or their adolescent children and near certain poverty. The operation of religions norms undercuts a woman’s ability to exit marital relationships, especially violent ones. Under Islamic law, women are left financially at risk upon their husband’s death. Therefore, policymakers should proceed cautiously before expanding the opportunity for the application of religious norms in instances that may leave women and children trapped in poverty or abusive relationships.


September 30, 2016 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to Best Incorporate Religion into Estate Planning

ReligionEstate planners combine several aspects when working with clients, and showing sensitivity to a client’s religious concerns should be incorporated when necessary. When selecting fiduciaries, clients who seek to implement religious values into their choice often will not find the individual who best fits the fiduciary criteria. A viable solution might be to recommend an institutional co-fiduciary that will be able to fulfill those duties. Additionally, many religious clients will want to make distributions and give to charity based on their religious beliefs; it is important to understand the values that are tied to these instances of giving. The Article further discusses several other religious considerations and how they are implemented into estate planning.  

See Martin M. Shenkman, Religion and Estate Planning, Wealth Management, September 27, 2016. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.


September 30, 2016 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New York Allows People to Be Buried with Their Pets

Forever with fidoNew York is now allowing pet owners to be buried with the cremated remains of their pet. Governor Cuomo signed the proposal into law on Monday. Cemeteries do not have to offer the option, and religious cemeteries are forbidden from offering it. This law comes at the tail end of a series of measures that honor the bond between human and beast in New York.

See Forever with Fido: New York to Allow People to Be Buried with Pets, NBC New York, September 27, 2016. 


September 27, 2016 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Jersey Allows Disinheritance Based on Religion

Religion confli tA New Jersey appeals court in In re Estate of Kenneth E. Jameson recently held that the law does not bar an individual from disinheriting their child for religiously discriminatory reasons. The case centered on a will contest by a woman who was disinherited from her Catholic father’s will after dating and later marrying a Jewish man.

See Howard Friedman, New Jersey Appeals Court OKs Religiously Discriminatory Disinheritance, Religion Clause, August 15, 2016.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 18, 2016 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Religion, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ancient Jerusalem Shrine Set For Makeover

ArticlePictureThe Church of the Holy Sepulchre was founded by Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and is one of the oldest and most important sites in Christendom. However, the part of the church which contains the site believed to be the tomb of Jesus has been in need of repair for many years though now an agreement has been reached for a Greek company to conduct extensive renovations. The work is expected to last through the remainder of 2016 and be completed sometime in 2017. The cost of the project will be shared between the various denominations that control the church under an agreement from the 19th century. The conflict between the six controlling denominations is notorious, with the most famous example being the "immovable ladder" which has been in place for over 250 years due to an inability to agree, which makes news of the renovation a pleasant surprise. Let us see if this ushers in a new era of cooperation in the management of one of the most historic sites in the Levant.

See Hili Perison, Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem To Undergo Major Restoration, Art Net News, March 24, 2016.

March 25, 2016 in Current Events, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Article On Resolving Church Property Disputes

Christian ChurchMichael W. McConnell (Stanford Law School) and Luke W. Goodrich (University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law) recently published an article entitled, On Resolving Church Property Disputes, Ariz. L. Rev. (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the article:

In recent decades, major religious denominations have experienced some of the largest schisms in our nation’s history, resulting in a flood of church property disputes. Unfortunately, the law governing these disputes is in disarray. Some states treat church property disputes just like disputes within other voluntary associations — applying ordinary principles of trust and property law to the deeds and other written legal instruments. Other states resolve church property disputes by deferring to religious documents such as church constitutions — even when those documents would have no legal effect under ordinary principles of trust or property law.

We argue that both courts and churches are better served by relying on ordinary principles of trust and property law, and that only this approach is fully consistent with the church autonomy principles of the First Amendment. Only this approach preserves the right of churches to adopt any form of governance they wish, keeps courts from becoming entangled in religious questions, and promotes clear property rights. By contrast, deferring to internal religious documents unconstitutionally pressures churches toward more hierarchical governance, invites courts to resolve disputes over internal church rules and practices, and creates costly uncertainty.

March 9, 2016 in Articles, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Longtime School Teacher Worth Millions, Leaves Estate To The Church

Christian ChurchWhen Anna Kurzweil died, she was a respected member of her community having served for 25 years as a teacher and a regular participant in many charitable functions. But she was also living with a secret, the fact that she was a multimillionaire. The unprepossessing old woman had managed to scrape together the next egg from years of simple living and wise investments made with her modest salary and an inheritance from her parents. This modest lifestyle was likely derived from the convent that she joined as a young women but from which she was forced to depart, before taking the final vows of the order, to care for her mother. But this commitment to religious life likely influenced her decision to leave almost the entirety of her estate to a local group of Jesuits who expressed surprise at the size of the bequest but not the fact it came from her. As someone always noted for her devotion to the Catholic faith and teaching, for her to make her last earthly wish be to endow an order known for education seems a way to tie up the last threads of her life quite nicely.

See Sally Morrow & David Gibson, Kansas City teacher astonishes with $2 million gift to Jesuits, Religious News Service, February 9, 2016.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 16, 2016 in Current Events, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Family Embroiled In Legal Battle Over Megachurch Founder’s Estate

Detroit bishipThe family of a popular Pentecostal bishop is alleging that the Church that he helped build is preventing them from inheriting upwards of $10 million from his estate. “Bishop William Bonner’s two adult grandchildren say his survivors are being shut out of their inheritance and they believe officials with the Harlem, N.Y.-based Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ are hiding money and records about property that belongs to the family.” The lawsuit is seeking to get answers from the Church that Bishop Bonner founded in 1944 which started off as a 2,500-seat sanctuary on East Seven Mile in Detroit and later expanded to numerous cities across the country and around the globe. “Bonner’s real estate empire includes as many as 30 homes and other properties in Michigan, New York, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., his family says.”

See Oralandar Brand-Williams, Family battles over megachurch founder’s estate, The Detroit News, January 27, 2016.

January 27, 2016 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Religion, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)