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What are Bahá'í Wills ?
I have been updating my will and discovered that a will and testament are actually two different things for Bahá'ís. My past experience was only to make provision for my material estate--mostly to prevent confusion and squabbling.
I did know something about writing wills, having been executrix of several relatives' estates, but I had never considered the testament portion before reading Nothing Left Unsaid: Creating a Healing Legacy with Final Words and Letters, by Mary Polce-Lynch, PhD. Also, Elizabeth Arnold's, Creating the Good Will, provides very complete information on both the emotional and financial aspects of passing on one's legacy.
In researching the Bahá'í writings I discovered more than just the burial laws and specifics of dividing an estate when no will has been written (the latter details being rather mind blowing). Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet/Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, told His followers: "It is incumbent upon every one to write his testament. It behoveth him to adorn its heading with the most great name, to testify therein to the oneness of god as manifested in the Day-Spring of His revelation and to set forth such good deeds as he may wish to be realized, that these may stand as his testimony in the worlds of revelation and of creation...." - Lights of Guidance, p. 192
Making a will is a separate activity and is also an essential obligation. Since civil estate laws can be complex, it's good idea to consult a lawyer to avoid problems in drawing up or executing a will. Each Bahá'í is free to dispose of his/her estate in whatever manner s/he chooses, within the limits imposed by civil law and after payments of burial expenses and other debts and obligations. "It is also highly desirable for a Bahá'í to take steps during his lifetime to ensure that he will be given a funeral in accordance with Bahá'í law ...." - Lights of Guidance, p. 193
Briefly, Bahá'í burial law states that one must be buried, not cremated; the prayer for the dead is to be recited for a believer of the age of 15 years or over, and the body not be transported more than one hour's journey from the place of death. Also, there should be no embalming, unless local civil require it. Often funeral parlors can not prepare for interment in less than the 72 hours beyond which embalming is necessary in my state, and sometime other medical or legal agencies are involved, so be advised that civil law can trump religious in this case. Best to sort all that out before and separate from the will.
So, Bahá'ís have a spiritual as well as material obligation to write a will and a testament, which allows them full discretion to specify how their property is to be disposed of, and is conducive to unity and agreement. Failure to draw up a will is considered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá as "disobedience" to the command of Bahá'u'lláh and as "non-fulfilment of the divine obligation".... - Letter from The Universal House of Justice, 1996 July 2001, Wills, Applicable Laws, Inheritance
Aside from these prerequisites above, I am free to formulate the provisions of my will and testament as I wish. Which means to me much more than avoiding probate, or who gets what of my material goods. It is more than just trying to prevent arguments among my children because of confusion or disagreements--or even where to look for all my legal paperwork--though all of those are important.
I am mostly concerned with clarifying my relationships with loved ones, which I can do in letter form to each. These do not have to be part of the Will and Testament, as I understand those, but are a part of the legacy I want to bequeath. Further, although there are lots of books on how to set out an estate and heirs, my material goods are mostly covered by the term "rest and residue" in the documents. So, if I have specific paintings or furniture or crafting materials that I want to go to certain people, for instance, I will need to list them specifically. Otherwise the executor will have to make decisions based on guesswork that could go differently than I and my heirs had anticipated.
All of which leaves the Testament, perhaps the more spiritual portion of the process, but certainly the most important to me. An essay on what I believe, what I think is important to pass along, any actions or achievements that are worth remembering about my life. And, probably especially in my case, all that stuff I wanted to tell everybody when they didn't want to listen. I am testifying to the purpose importance of my life.
That spiritual legacy, I think, is more important that my material estate.
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