Cultural Issues in Estate Planning

Approaches to death and dying are often affected by cultural perspectives and cultural traditions.   It can be difficult to discuss death with your family if there is a cultural reluctance to do so. Younger family members may see the need for estate planning and legal documentation and want to help their parents, but don’t want to seem presumptuous, like they’re asking about their future inheritance.

It may help to bring in a professional who can provide value by being the bridge between generations. Some estate and financial professionals will understand that the U.S. system may be different than in your family’s home country. Be prepared to answer questions about your background and traditions so professionals can help you without causing discomfort or offense.

Consider how culture and law interact

Every culture and identity approaches finances differently. Understanding the impact of culture on money will help in estate planning. Japan, for example, does not have a probate system; heirs divide assets and debts by agreement even if there is a will that provides a different allocation.

Another example: The durable power of attorney as used in the U.S. is still a very novel concept in most East Asian countries — medical decisions continue to be handled informally by the family, especially for elderly or very ill patients. Yet, the lack of one can prove problematic in the U.S.

Generational changes

Cultural ties to a person’s home country may lessen with each successive generation. The experience of a first-generation immigrant client will be different from the experience of that person’s U.S.-born children.

Another possible problem is when family members aren’t U.S. citizens but own property here. How do you plan for possible estate taxes in the future? Capital gains taxes? Fortunately, a little advance planning can save the family money and trouble by setting up an estate plan to accomplish goals in a tax-efficient way. Listen closely to the advice of qualified estate planning attorneys and financial professionals — and make sure they listen to you.

Do you have questions?

Count on your experienced team at Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC to provide you with sound guidance for your Estate Planning, Elder Law, Real Estate, Probate, Trust & Estate Administration, and other legal needs. For assistance, contact us today at (860) 229-0369, or email us at

a hand that has text that says "culture" with words around pointing into the hand, like values, rituals, norms, and other descriptors of culture