Have you prepared a will? Even though you might be young, the Baha’i teachings say that everyone needs to write a will.
Recently our Baha’i community did a study on the preparation of wills. My wife and I had already undergone the process of reviewing and rewriting our wills with a local reputed attorney, so it was interesting to hear the viewpoints of others in the group.
Baha’u’llah counsels his followers to prepare a will. Conceivably an individual lacking in material resources may legitimately believe that the making of a will is pointless. Even if he or she has few earthly possessions of much value, though, the Baha’i teachings have some basic teachings about death, burial and writing a will: that we should leave behind a testimony of our faith, mention that we should not be cremated nor embalmed, instruct that we should not be buried more than one hour’s journey from the place of death, request a dignified funeral service and ask that a Baha’i prayer for the dead be recited. The will can also stipulate how the decedent wants his or her property bequeathed. In the Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah wrote:
Unto everyone hath been enjoined the writing of a will. The testator should … 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, p. 59.
So even if a decedent had little or no property to bequeath, other factors oblige him or her to prepare a will. Writing a will has many advantages:
- The opportunity to designate how your property will be distributed.
- The avoidance of intestacy—which means that, lacking a will, civil law dictates distribution of property.
- A will provides a way for making charitable contributions.
- A will can designate person(s) to act as guardian(s) of minor children.
- Wills reduce potential taxes and probate costs.
- A will can name a person to serve as executor of the estate.
- And wills offer the opportunity to provide financial security for family members or friends.
When death occurs without a will, rules of inheritance as mandated by the state or country of residence determine who is entitled to the decedent’s property. Statutory or case law may impose entitlements to the property that infringe on rights of the spouse or children to inherit. In the United States, an administrator may be chosen by the court having jurisdiction over the decedent’s property who then determines how the property is distributed.
In preparing our will, my wife and I consulted together on several occasions concerning our objectives. Once these were clarified, we then discussed them with a local attorney. She helped us to provide specific details on our assets, income, obligations, heirs, executors and trustees. In drafting the will, we provided instructions as to our burial wishes, any incapacity, testimonial language, and powers of attorney. With the document stored in a safe and our executors privy to the contents, our attorney obliged us to keep the will current based on any changes in property, laws, planning or financial needs.
An interesting point came up in our study group concerning the distribution of property. As the group participants were women (except for me) and most being parents, the question arose whether older children could feel shortchanged if property is not bestowed equally on each sibling?
One of the women exclaimed that circumstances, whether influenced generally by culture or specifically by character, are never the same for each sibling. The way each one handles the battle of life depends upon many varying and unique factors. So, parents might not want to give equally to their children either during their lifetimes or after their deaths—or they might prefer that some part of their estate go to a charity, a needy cause or a religious institution.
This got me to thinking about how maturing children may be inclined to measure love with bequests, both in life and after death. The consequent friction that can arise within the family out of jealousy can potentially undermine bonds of affection between family members.
This discussion of spiritual principles prompted our group to ask the question: What principle did Baha’u’llah bequeath to humanity concerning the disposition of property? Here is what we found:
A person hath full jurisdiction over his property. … God, verily, hath permitted him to deal with that which He hath bestowed upon him in whatever manner he may desire. – Baha’u’llah, Ibid., p. 127.
This principle removes the causes of any contention between heirs who may otherwise question the intention of the testator or else seek some advantage.
So if you haven’t written a will yet, think about doing so. Like it did for my wife and I, writing a will focuses the mind and the soul on who will own our material possessions once we’ve made our transition to the spiritual world.