The determination of “who gets my stuff” in preparing a will or trust (the distribution portion of estate planning) often creates unrest in individuals. In addition to forcing them to contend with their own mortality, it raises the prospect of family disharmony.
Estate planning professionals often hear the question, “How should I divide up my assets?” Believers in Jesus Christ face an increased dilemma when they wish to include Christian charitable giving as part of their estate (see next article).
It surpasses the scope of this article to set rules, or even offer advice. However, the question of Scriptural guidelines for the believer does bring us to the point. As with other issues in life, the Bible contains principles to guide us in thinking through our estate distribution plan.
People Surpass Dollars in Importance
First, God’s concern lies with individuals and relationships, not possessions. When God entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ, He demonstrated His concern by dying for people, not things (Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:16). Christ Jesus died for human beings. This makes men and women, boys and girls more important than anything else, and should strongly impact our planning.
Beyond the mere financial determination of “who gets what,” this principle calls us to maintain relationships between loved ones. Place this high on the priority list. This comes into play when determining who to name as executor or trustee, planning for letters of distribution and ethical wills, and the use of durable (financial) and healthcare powers-of-attorney. Can we justify before the Lord placing our family’s relationships in jeopardy just to save a few dollars on estate administration? Or worse yet, can we rationalize making an unkind “final statement” to or about an individual by the distributions we make? Such decisions now become spiritual issues rather than the mere bowing to customs.
Some of the more logical outcomes of this principle include: naming executors and trustees not subject to family pressures or interpersonal conflicts; nominating guardians who will pass on your spiritual values; avoiding the use of co-executors or co-trustees and the conflicts they inevitably produce; not specifying “dollar amount” distributions (use percentages); not providing unequal distributions merely as a means of getting back at someone; and the drafting of a letter of distribution for personal items and an ethical will. This should also preclude placing children as co-owners of assets, such as our home, bank account or brokerage account. (Sufficient legal complications can occur that should warn us away from such dual ownership. Contact your estate planning professional for specific information.)
Dependence Guides Asset Transfers
Second, God reserves some of His harshest criticisms for those who ignore the needy, especially the needy of their own family (James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:8). When God gave the land of Canaan to Israel (He called it their “inheritance”), He allotted larger portions to larger tribes (Joshua 14-19). He based the distribution of the land upon each tribe’s specific needs.
Thus, we may safely conclude that it pleases God when our distribution centers around those financially dependent on us-spouse, minor children, aged parents, mentally or physically disabled family members, or other dependents. It begins with family, but also extends beyond family as well. And this does not exclude other types of giving. It simply means that we have a responsibility to make sure our dependents receive proper care.
The matter of distributions continues with the next article in this series of 7:
Guidelines for Christian Estate Planning Part III: Biblical Guidelines for Estate Distribution (Article part 2)
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 III: Biblical Guidelines for Estate Distribution (Article part 2).
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
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