Deciding on which charities to include in our Estate Plan may seem a little overwhelming, particularly given the emotionally distressing task of preparing a Revocable Living Trust or Last Will and Testament. The following suggestions offer some practical guidelines to assist in that decision.
Go with Your Passions
God has a passion for people (Romans 5:8). But within that context we encounter a wide variety of ministries and/or charities for consideration. Focus on a ministry with special importance to you, one that “turns your key.” Perhaps an agency that touched your family or an organization that performs a service you wish you could. Remember, God gives us each a commitment for different types of ministries. It makes no sense, economically or spiritually, to give to an endeavor that you have no passion for, no matter how strong their appeal.
It may seem obvious, but check on the validity of the group and determine if the government recognizes it as a non-profit organization. As an interested party, you have the right to ask the organization for a copy of their IRS “tax exempt letter.” Check other sources of information such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau.
The issue of accountability holds a place of even greater importance than the non-profit status of a ministry. In 1 Corinthians 15:2-3, Paul gives instructions to the church at Corinth for making a gift to the poor in Jerusalem. Those instructions include a means of verifying its proper use. Make certain that any organization you support adheres to an acceptable form of accountability. You have the right to request a copy of the organization’s annual report and audited financial statement. In addition to the sources listed above, check with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Determine if the organization uses its current funds wisely. Look again at their annual report and the sources listed above. Check the percentages of income that go for administrative and/or fundraising expenses compared to the amount for actual ministry.
Sustainability Makes a Difference
Many people often overlook sustainability when considering giving to an organization. You want to determine not only how long this group has been involved in the type of ministry that interests you, but its prospects for continued existence.
Paul took great care to make certain his ministry efforts did not center around himself (1 Corinthians 1:13-16; 3:4-9). Look at charitable organizations in this light also. Some estate planning professionals counsel clients to remember in their Estate Plan organizations that have outlived their founder. Reconsider any ministry focusing on the work of one or two individuals (the founders). Ask, “Is it likely that the organization will flounder and fade when its founder dies?” Look for the existence of a succession plan that will successfully move the organization forward. If the founder outlives you, do you know what will happen to your funds if the ministry folds? You want organizations, particularly in giving through wills and trusts, that have either well-outlived their founders, or have established plans to carry them through the loss of the nucleus of individuals that began the ministry.
When including a local ministry in your Estate Plan, make certain that you keep up with the work of that organization, even if you move to another part of the country. For example, if you retire and move to a more suitable climate, you will want know if the organization “back home” experiences a philosophy shift. If they change their emphasis, doctrinal statement, or means of operation, you need to take another look at the organization and determine if you wish to keep it in your plan.
You often have the right to designate that your gift go to a particular aspect of a ministry you support. If the organization involves numerous ventures, you can designate the one most meaningful to you if you desire. With national or international ministries that have local branches, consider whether you wish to give to the entire organization or just the local chapter. To give “where it’s needed most,” simply naming the organization fills the bill.
Limit Your Charitable Bequests
Limit the number of charitable organizations you remember in your Estate Plan. In the first place, the administrative expenses of your estate rise with each organization you include. Secondly, you want your gift to have an impact with the organization, and you best accomplish this with a large gift. Since most of us cannot afford a “large gift” to several organizations, confining your charitable giving to a smaller number charity raises its impact. Unless, of course, your estate is sizable enough to accommodate a larger number of organizations.
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 Bible
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