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Updated: Feb 4, 2023

This article was originally written for and published in The Business Bulletin.

Who Needs Estate Planning? Whoever Expects to Die Someday!

And that includes YOU, doesn’t it? No question about it. Dad used to say, “The young WILL die and the old MUST die.” But our tendency is to think that estate planning is for Senior Citizens preparing to die, or for those with large financial holdings. “There’s plenty of time!” we say. But, surprisingly, it is even more important for young couples to have estate planning than it is for Senior Citizens. Why? Children need to be protected. Some 20 years ago, a pamphlet was distributed in our congregations entitled “Christian Stewardship in Estate Planning.” I was very impressed with that well written work at the time, and still am. I plan to draw from it in many times in this article, which will be split into two parts. If you can get a copy of that pamphlet, (and maybe it should be re-printed), please read over it carefully. Quoting directly, “The first reason for this publication is to discuss the urgency of estate planning, however little or much we have accumulated in life.”

The two main reasons we need estate planning are:

1. Providing for Guardianship of our children and 2. The distribution of our assets in a responsible, peaceful manner. We have been told over the pulpit many times that we are not owners of what we have, we are just stewards. It is the Lord’s and He has entrusted it into our care. We all agree with the principles of Godly stewardship, taking care of what He has given us. We are to share with others, and give the first fruits back to Him, not just lightly consuming our resources on our children and ourselves. However, it is often a new thought to us that this same principle or responsibility includes preparing for our departure and what happens after we’re gone to our children and assets.

While discussing stewardship, we are usually discussing tangible things and/or money. But the same principle holds true with our children. Did you ever stop to think what would happen to your children should you be taken out of the picture by “untimely” death, especially if you and your spouse were to be taken together? “It’s rare,” you say, and that’s true. However, I have been through two situations close to me in my short life already, and have heard of others. And I can tell you, that it’s no small concern or easy situation to work through.

So how do we get started? In my opinion, it’s very simple. Die. No, do not die, as in dying physically. But go through the process of dying in your mind. First, imagine what might happen if you die and your wife is left behind, and maybe small children. How would you like for them to be taken care of? Do you have any children with special needs? In the case of you and your wife dying together, who would you like to be responsible for deciding who should be in charge of where your children are raised? What if your wife goes first, would that make a difference as to how you wanted your property distributed? Would it be proper to give the Church a share of your estate? If so, would that be before or after your debts are paid? If your wife survives you, would you like for her to have full use of all of your joint property and then distribute it at her death? Do you anticipate a struggle between your heirs? Who would you like to be your executor? Should there be two? Should he be a relative, or another trusty person? Should he live close by, or is it OK if he’s from a distance? I trust that you will live one more month before we dig into the mechanics of actually setting a plan into place.

During that month, do some serious thinking about what goes on if you die, and be certain to visit with your wife about her feelings. (For the purpose of simple writing, I am assuming that husbands are reading this article, which isn’t always the case). Be thinking only about what you want to happen or where you want your assets (or minor children) to go. We have choices to discuss about how to accomplish that next month. I have heard it said sometimes like this: “What I leave behind will go to my wife and children. I won’t need it anymore, I won’t think about it anymore, and they can do what they want to with it!” Sad to say, that’s not a Godly attitude.

Let me quote our Church pamphlet again about the urgency of estate planning: “It is just as important to be faithful in the distribution of our assets (at death) as it is to be faithful in our stewardship through life. It is very important that you express your desires and the procedure for caring for your estate. A well-organized plan tends to keep the family heirs as friends instead of creating bitterness and lifelong enemies. Furthermore, an inner satisfaction will be experienced in outlining the division of your assets while you are able to care for your personal business, rather than under the atmosphere of approaching death.” I am a long way from being the authority on this subject. However, in part because of my occupation, I have seen much heartache and witnessed a lot of stress because of a lack that we have in this area. Usually it’s not an intentional omission, it’s procrastination and the fact that we want to live, and we generally do not enjoy thinking of dying. But it’s reality folks!

Many of you have served as executors on an estate or as deacons have helped your people through these times of death. We then make a commitment to do something about our own situation, but as time passes the memories of unpleasantness fade and we don’t execute. We should start now with something, and improvements could be made later.

In next month’s article I’ll go through some of the different “vehicles” we can use to facilitate a smooth transition. But meanwhile, to whet your appetite, I’ll leave a few interesting facts:

  • Without a will, or similar instrument, you cannot choose a guardian/trustee for your minor or disabled children. Relatives can make suggestions and offers but ultimately the courts approve or make the decision.

  • Without a will, or similar instrument, you cannot include the Church in your giving. An ordinary Power of Attorney is no good once you are incapacitated. NO POWER OF ATTORNEY IS VALID AFTER DEATH, and yes, I meant to capitalize that statement. More on that next month…

  • A “Living Will” is not about estate planning, it’s an instrument used to notify your doctor and other medical personnel your preference relating to life support and resuscitation. Usually you complete a “Medical Power of Attorney” and a “Living Will” at the same time. More next month…

  • “Avoidance of Probate” is mostly hype, and way over used. Probate is the legal procedure that assures that proper care was taken to pass your assets to your heirs in a legal manner. While this procedure varies from state to state, if you have a well thought through plan in place, probate is quite minimal because the court and your heirs know what your intention is or was.

  • In all states that I know about, you and your wife both need a will. That’s true even if your sentiments and intentions are the same.

*In this or any succeeding article I am not drawing from any one particular situation or person, rather from a collection, so please do not think I am singling anybody out or criticizing them.

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