Guidelines for Christian Estate Planning Part III: Biblical Guidelines for Estate Distribution (Article Part 2)
This article continues material from the previous article in this series of 7.
Love Motivates Asset Transfers
Third, gifting and love go hand-in-hand. According to 1 Corinthians 13:3, “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor…and have not love, it profits me nothing” (see also 1 Corinthians 16:14). Love should stand behind our estate planning. Even in caring for the helpless, it only pleases God if done in love. Why? God’s concern lies with our motives. Even a generous and traditional distribution to those dependent on us, made without love, will miss God’s plan. Some people, as part of the overall development of an estate plan, may need to work on their own family relationships.
Don’t Give What Can’t Be Handled
Fourth, in addition to need, take into account ability and inclination. In Exodus 23:29, God reveals His plan to give Israel their inheritance in the land of Canaan. He knows that receiving it all at once would prove too overwhelming for them, so He specifies that they would receive it gradually-over time. They lacked the ability to handle their full inheritance up front, so he parceled it out methodically. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) revealed his penchant for unwise spending. Even in receiving his inheritance while his father was still alive and able to witness its use, he squanders all that he had received.
A good steward of material possessions (see the first article in this series) considers whether his heirs can properly manage a lump sum, should receive a bequest spread out over time, or a blend of each. An abundance of instruments exist to provide ways to distribute your wealth to your children in ways that prevent them from squandering it all in a short time. You might consider a plan that provides regular payments from an annuity or trust with a charitable organization. These instruments will spread a distribution over a number of years, or for the individual’s entire lifetime. Other tools (or combinations of vehicles) can enable you to pass along a portion of your assets immediately upon your death while delaying the remainder for distribution for a future time(s). Your estate planning professional can help tailor a plan that fits your specific needs. Avoiding probate and alternatives is also important so let the professional do this for you.
Don’t Just Give, Talk
Finally, communication would seem to be an important issue. In Bible times, the transfer of assets from one generation to another generally came in the form of a spoken blessing (see the first article in this series) in conjunction with passing family possessions. This method of estate distribution allowed a father to talk directly to his children as part of the process, explaining the reasons for his distribution. While not all children equally appreciated their blessing, at least they had the opportunity to hear from their father the reasons behind his actions.
Today, most assets transfer from one generation to another through the use of a legal will, trust or other estate planning vehicle following a death. However, all too often, the passing of assets occurs without comment. It would be advantageous if today we could pass not only assets, but the values behind our decisions. Isaac called his sons to his death bed and gave them each an individual blessing (Genesis 49). Just before his death, Joshua (leader of the entire nation) challenged his people to follow the Lord (Joshua 24:19-24). As King David neared the end of his life he summoned his son, Solomon, and encouraged him to walk in the ways of the Lord (1 Kings 2).
Two methods to accomplish this present themselves, and undoubtedly work best when used in conjunction with each other. The first involves the preparation of an ethical will. (We leave the discussion of the ethical will for a later article.) The second method is probably the most difficult, even more difficult than the actual developing of your estate plan. Talk to your family face-to-face, explain your values and the causes or ministries you supported over through the years, and inform them of the various elements of your estate plan. This will enable the family to learn not only of the reasons for your distributions, but also hear directly from their parents the values they hold dear.
“Who gets my stuff?” Consider carefully your distribution plan, and remember that all we have belongs to God (see previous article). We just manage it for Him. And that includes how we distribute it at the end of our life.
Other articles in this seven-part series, Guidelines for Christian Estate Planning:
Click here for Part I: The Biblical Basis for Estate Planning.
Click here for Part II: Biblical Guidelines for Estate Distribution (Article part 1).
Click here for Part IV: Biblical Basis for Charitable Giving.
Click here for Part V: Guidelines for Selecting Charities.
Click here for Part VI: The Believer and Secular Charities.
Click here for Part VII: The Believer and the Ethical Will.
The Holy Bible: Passage Lookup – New International Version – BibleGateway.com