A Christian ministry invited me to present estate planning issues to its constituents at an event. Following the presentation, a businessman and his wife began discussions with me about their estate. In the process I asked them, “Have you thought about contributing part of your estate to the Lord for his work?”
They responded by stating they had never given it any thought, but expressed interest in doing so. Later, they came back with an obvious question: “How much should we give to the Lord?”
The fun part of situations like this is encouraging people to seek God’s will for their will. To the couple, I told them that they should talk about it with each other and pray for wisdom, and that God would direct them.
My observation is that successful people who love God and live for him generally accept responsibility to discover what God would have them do regarding their estate. However there is simply no formula or directive as such that requires a certain percentage or dollar amount.
Many believers say, “All that I have belongs to God. I’m simply the steward he has entrusted to manage what he has provided.” If this is true, then it is incumbent upon Christians to seek him and his will for his assets.
As you seek him, here are some of the issues to be considered:
- For couples, death may be the result of a common disaster or you may live your full life expectancy; therefore, the timing of death for each of you may be different. This requires multiple planning scenarios.
- Do you want to give none, some, or all of your estate to the family? To ministry?
- When do you want to give your estate — at death, while living, or a combination of both?
- How much do you need for retirement purposes?
- What about the family business? How do you pass it on to the family, plan your retirement, and still give to ministry?
There are some tools available for estate planning that can help you achieve seemingly conflicting desires. It may be necessary to involve a financial consultant.
Here are three real-life examples to show how godly men and women have chosen to handle their estate.
1. Business sold, large estate
John and his wife Trudy** sold their business and immediately gave each of their children “opportunity” funds to continue their education, start a business, make a deposit on a home, buy a car or leisure item, or whatever the children desired, no strings attached.
They also set aside some of the wealth for retirement. The balance, which was considerable by all standards and by far the bulk of their estate, was invested for the purpose of distribution to Christian ministry. The plan was to distribute this wealth over the remaining years of their lives. The children were invited to participate in selecting where the donations would go.
2. Business ongoing, special family need
Bill and his wife Susan have just recently updated their last will and testament. They have an adult child who would be totally dependent upon the provisions of welfare without their support. They have been providing for the basic needs of housing, transportation, etc. for this child.
In their will, they have set aside funds that would be available for the trustee to continue their support for the life expectancy of that adult child. In addition to this special need, they have decided to give one-third of the estate to their five children, one-third to their grandchildren, and one-third to Christian ministry.
Bill and Sue own a business and are in the process of considering the sale of this business. Their plan is to set aside sufficient funds for their retirement and distribute the balance in equal proportions to their children, grandchildren, and ministry while they are still alive, with the balance to be settled upon death.
3. Business sold, large estate
Ben and his wife Mary** sold their business and are using those funds for retirement and other investments. In their estate plan, they have decided to give a fixed amount representing approximately 10 per cent of their estate to their three children, enough to enhance their lifestyle, help the grandchildren with their education, and so forth.
The inheritance will be distributed to their children in the next year or so. The balance of their estate not required for retirement is quite considerable. Ben and Mary plan to distribute those funds to Christian ministry over the next 10 years.
Several common threads are illustrated in these examples.
- First, the families would be considered wealthy. They have more money than they need to live the lifestyle they want through retirement.
- Second, they gave or intend to give some or all of the inheritance to their children while they are still alive.
- Third, they want to give as much as possible to ministry while they are alive.
You have a family and an estate that God has given you. What you do with your family and your estate is between you and him. You are responsible for your life and what you do with it.
The Scriptures remind us in 1 Corinthians 3 that we will be judged. Your estate plan is serious business. Take it to the Lord in prayer, seek professional consultation, and be a good steward. Make your will God’s will.
Names have been changed for privacy.