An estate plan is a significant resource for a faithful Christian steward. An estate plan is for everyone -- young parents, retirees, singles, middle-aged individuals, adult children with a living parent. It enables individuals to be assured that their personal desires will be followed. An estate plan provides a tool to distribute people's assets according to their faithful intent. It may solve some personal financial situations, augment retirement income, and certainly offer peace of mind throughout one's life.
The launch of estate planning education should be grounded in the desire to equip Christians to be even better stewards of God's gifts in life. The church has a tremendous opportunity to help educate parishioners about the key components of a Christian estate plan. In addition, the church may receive some benefit from providing such a service. Namely, the church may be named as a beneficiary of people's assets. As several church leaders find it more and more difficult to fund the daily church operations and ministry with offering plate contributions, income diversification is essential. The life gifts through planned giving may serve as an integral revenue source to fund mission and ministry.
Recognizing that all possessions are gifts from God, Christian stewards are often defined, in part, as ones who manage these gifts according to God's desire. However, Christian stewardship includes more than money, homes, cars, investments, and possessions. It is about all of life -- everything! It is linked intrinsically to discipleship. Christian stewards offer their prayers, presence, financial assets, witness, and service for the sake of the gospel.
People spend their lives acquiring things. The church teaches that the faithful stewardship of one's possessions is important. Christians are called to be good stewards of God's gifts. Many believers manage these possessions well throughout their lives. Yet they often are not sure of the best methods for overseeing the care of these possessions beyond their own need. They are reluctant to establish any estate plan, notwithstanding one that will serve as a testimony to their faith. They even avoid initiating plans that will enable caring for one another more easily during times of uncertainty or decreased health. In fact, more than fifty percent of Americans have not established an estate plan. Thus, they are relying by default on the probate court system to implement a plan.
So how do church leaders help foster estate planning? A starting point is to offer a planned giving seminar led by the staff from the United Methodist Foundation serving the annual conference. These Foundation staff members are available to outline the basic components of an estate plan and to discuss various planned giving opportunities.
In addition, leaders may consider lifting up a series of questions to stimulate people's interest. Listed below are a number of these thought-provoking questions:
- How can I be certain who will care for my kids if a tragedy strikes my life?
- What is the difference between a living revocable trust and a last will and testament?
- When is it best to sell an asset and contribute the proceeds to the church? When is it best to contribute the asset instead of selling it?
- What is a medical power of attorney for healthcare, an advance directive, and a living will? Should I have any of these if I am only 35 years old and in good health?
- How could I increase my retirement income for the remainder of my life and provide a charitable gift to the church at the same time?
- How may I best care for my aging parents? What do I need to establish to handle their routine financial affairs?
- Does my family have access to my healthcare records? Can my doctors talk openly with my family about my healthcare needs?
- Will I save income and estate taxes if I use a living revocable trust?
- How can I give to a charity and still provide a legacy to my grandchildren?
- How may I determine the person who will make medical decisions in my best interest if I am unable to do so for myself?
- What is the difference between an executor and a successor trustee?
- How can I best provide a legacy gift to help carry on the mission and ministry of the church?
Have you ever asked yourself one or more of these questions? Most people have thought about several of these questions at some point in their life, yet few of us know the answers to most of them.
Estate planning is a key component of a steward's financial discipleship. It provides for the purposeful distribution of our social capital. It helps us recognize that none of our possessions belong ultimately to us. (Read I Corinthians 4:7). It reminds us that we are in God's care. We are God's children. We are part of something far greater than ourselves. Generations have gone before us, and generations are yet to come. Estate planning helps to bear witness to God's provision and to build legacies in God's name for those future generations.