Halachic Estate Planning
In today’s society, the monetary laws of the Torah have unfortunately been largely disregarded even within the Orthodox community, mostly due to a lack of education and understanding of those laws. There is one area of monetary law that affects everyone – the laws of yerushah (inheritance). According to the Torah’s laws of inheritance, a man’s sons are his sole heirs, each inheriting an equal share, except that when the oldest child is a son, the first-born son would inherit a double share (as compared to his brothers). (If a man has no sons, the order of succession is: daughters, then brothers, then parents, then uncles, then next of kin.) Jewish law provides for the man’s widow and unmarried daughters by giving them a lien against the man’s estate for their support until his widow remarries and until all his daughters get married, but the man’s widow and daughters do not inherit any property outright.
In contrast, under New York law, if no will was ever written, a deceased person’s surviving spouse and children (including daughters) all have a right to share in the deceased person’s estate. If a will was written, the deceased person’s assets would be distributed to whoever was named in the deceased person’s will. However, a secular non-halachic will has no halachic validity, which poses a real problem for an observant Jew. A secular non-halachic Will takes effect only after a person’s death, at which time the deceased person’s halachic heirs have automatically inherited the deceased’s assets, and the deceased person no longer has any halachic authority to transfer such possessions because those possessions no longer belong to the deceased person, but rather to his halachic heirs.
Furthermore, a person has no halachic right to accept assets inherited from an estate where the deceased person had no will or had only a secular non-halachicwill because it is almost certain that there will be instances of gezel (theft) under Jewish law. Therefore, it is important for every Jewish person to not only write a will but to make sure the will conforms with Jewish law, making sure that the very last thing a person does in this world does not violate the Torah’slaws of yerushah.
This article mentions only a few reasons why everyone needs to have a Will. Future articles will discuss how a will also promotes charitable planning, avoids/minimizes estate taxes, and helps families financially plan for future generations. May we all merit living long, healthy and happy lives.