Your will (or trust) is both an important and powerful document.
A completed, legal will allows you to proactively care for your loved ones’ needs, and it ensures your God-given resources are transferred in a way that reflects your faith and values.
What’s more, when you include charitable gifts in your will, you experience five supercharged giving benefits.
- Legacy: Extend the impact of your generosity, well beyond your lifetime.
- Satisfaction: When you make the decision to name Westminster Seminary California and other ministries in your will, you experience the joy of putting your resources to work for Kingdom purposes.
- Availability: Retain access to your resources for the remainder of your lifetime, or for as long as you need them.
- Flexibility: Change your mind at any time about how your charitable gifts are designated.
- Capacity: Potentially give a larger gift that far exceeds what would be possible during your lifetime.
Choosing a Personal Representative for Your Will or Trust
Your personal representative (otherwise known as an “executor” of your will or “trustee” of your trust) is the person you choose to carry out your final wishes for handling your estate and the distribution of your resources.
Almost anyone over the age of 18 can serve as a personal representative, but of course, you will want to select someone who is capable, aligned with your values and has the time available.
Should you consider an individual or should you turn to a professional? Both options have advantages and disadvantages.
You may want to choose a friend or family member as your personal representative because you know each other well. You trust their judgement, capabilities and commitment to follow your wishes based on your shared history and personal values. A friend or family member has a fiduciary duty to follow your wishes for handling your estate and making distributions as you have decided. They may hire an attorney, CPA and/or other professional advisors to help them through the process.
On the other hand, consider whether there are family dynamics that will make this role more difficult for someone that you know. Additionally, determine whether the time commitment and obligations of this important role will overwhelm your friend or loved one, in light of their other responsibilities.
Many people, for one reason or another, turn to a professional instead, such as a bank trust department or a professional fiduciary. Since professionals are independent from your family, they’re not swayed by any complicated relationships. They have a thorough understanding of their fiduciary responsibility, and you know beforehand exactly what their costs are going to be. Furthermore, since this is their business, they will likely have adequate staffing and appropriate systems in place.
One potential downside is that professionals may not have contextual knowledge about your values or past behavior. This may become important if decisions need to be made about discretionary payments to beneficiaries or other gray areas in your plan.
Regardless of who you choose, it’s important to communicate this important decision, both to your family and of course, to the personal representative you’ve chosen. Taking time now to clarify your desires and the location of your legal documents will ultimately save time, hassle and heartache for all the loved ones affected by your plan.
So you’re taking the next step to finalize your will or trust.
Congratulations! You’re among a growing number of believers who recognize how important it is to determine and prepare the next stewards of your God-given resources.
Now is it time to call a lawyer to prepare and sign your final documents? Well, that depends…
Before you pick up the phone, pause to ask yourself these questions.
1. Does my plan reflect my priorities?
Your will is more than just a legal paper that documents who gets what. It’s also a powerful testimony of what matters most to you. What are the core values and guiding principles by which you’ve lived your life? Consider how your estate plan might communicate these priorities to your family and the world.
2. Does my plan appropriately care for all my people?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” way to structure your distributions. Do you have loved ones with special needs? How prepared are your heirs to manage resources well? How much is enough for your children, grandchildren or other loved ones? Your plan should be structured in a way that supports the values and financial freedom you wish to pass on to the next generation.
3. Does my plan support my passions?
Through your will, you have the opportunity to give in a substantial way to Westminster Seminary California and the other causes that mean so much to you. What are the greatest needs you see in the world today? What passions has God placed in your heart? You can extend your Kingdom impact well beyond your lifetime by including charitable gifts in your will.
Yes, it’s critical to finalize your legal will – but careful planning will offer greater peace of mind and effectiveness once it’s done. By pausing to ask and answer these three important questions, you’ll be well on your way toward a God-honoring plan that supports your family and accomplishes your charitable goals.
Living For God’s Promised Future
Avert your eyes, because this is going to look really ugly.
It’s the moment in Scripture when Caleb tells his old friend Joshua he wants the land promised to him in Canaan. In a word, he says, “Gimme what I got coming.” (Joshua 14:12a)
Wow, Caleb. Greedy much? You could at least pretend to be gracious!
But rewind forty years, and remember the report Caleb gave after spying out Canaan. Ten spies returned and cried, “Occupying Mars would be easier than taking Canaan!” But Caleb (and Joshua) flatly said, “We got this – because God’s got this.”
Where the other ten spies feared Canaan’s people and cities, Caleb and Joshua reserved their awe for the God of Israel. They weren’t naïve enough to think possessing Canaan would be a cake walk, but they were convinced no obstacle could derail God’s cause.
You know the rest of the story. The Israelites bounced like tumbleweed in the desert for two generations, because their panic had eclipsed God’s promise. They would never see Canaan.
Caleb’s story, however, would not end in dust. Instead, his family was promised a portion of Canaan, and he was told that he would live long enough to possess it. For four decades, Caleb is carried through the wilderness by a vision for the land he would ultimately inherit.
When that day of promise arrived, Caleb was wrinkled and gray, but as strong as ever. Without skipping a beat, he told Joshua, “Gimme what I got coming.”
More than anything else, Caleb knew any land or possession in service to God would spread Jehovah’s fame. Likewise, when we endure troubles or face overwhelming odds, we can confidently run toward God’s promised future.
We relentlessly press on toward the goal, knowing that any actions we take, any offerings we make, in response to God’s prompting will successfully bring Him glory.
Had Caleb known the full story of his inheritance, Caleb would have been even more obnoxious! Canaan became the land from which David’s crown sprang up and eventually produced the everlasting rule of Jesus Christ.
Was Caleb greedy? Yes. But only for God’s glory.
“Keep reminding them of these things.” (2 Timothy 2:14, NIV)
“Don’t forget!” These words have a way of grabbing our attention!
What did I forget? Did I leave the coffee pot on? Did I miss a meeting?
There was a time when people used to tie strings around their fingers as reminders. Now we just ask Alexa to keep us on task.
While imploring young Timothy to keep the Word of Christ, the Apostle Paul uses a surprising reminder – his own life! On any given day and under any circumstance, he knew his story pointed to the saga of saving grace through Jesus Christ. So Paul ties “a string” around Timothy’s finger to remind him of the Truth.
He says, “You know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings… the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (2 Timothy 3:10-11, NIV)
The implication here is that each of us must study life stories that point us to Jesus. Who serves as your string, calling you to hear and obey the voice of Jesus? Even further, what reminder is your life’s story providing others?
When family and friends consider your purpose, your love and even your sufferings, how are you pointing them to what matters most?
There are any number of ways you can provide reminders to your family about the Word of God and the impact Christ has had on your life. One tangible way to do this is by writing a spiritual love letter. A spiritual love letter allows you to communicate your faith and values to the next generation. It’s a meaningful way to wrap a string around their fingers, well beyond your lifetime.
When the road seems difficult, or they simply need a little encouragement, your life’s story will be a reminder to your loved ones, “Don’t forget!”
Writing a Spiritual Love Letter
A spiritual love letter may be one of the most meaningful gifts you can leave to your family and friends. Sometimes referred to as an “ethical will,” a spiritual love letter is an informal document separate from your legal will, designed to pass along your Christian values, life lessons and blessings from one generation to the next.
Families have been crafting these legacy documents for centuries. In fact, the practice traces its origins all the way back to Jacob gathering his sons to offer them a blessing, just before his passing (Genesis 49:1-33).
Writing a spiritual love letter may feel daunting at first. However, if you view it as a love letter to your family, the process can be spiritually deep and satisfying. Furthermore, since this is not a legal document, the content, length and form are completely up to you. There is no right or wrong way to go about it; the letter should reflect your personal tone and style.
Most people include these three basic elements in their spiritual love letters…
1. Beliefs and values.
What are your core beliefs about God? How have your faith and convictions guided the way you’ve lived your life?
2. Life lessons.
What are the most important things you’ve learned from your mentors? What truths have you gleaned from life’s victories, challenges and disappointments?
3. Messages of hope.
Which Scriptures have brought personal encouragement? What are your greatest hopes and prayers for your loved ones? What blessing do you want to offer them?
Once you’ve completed your spiritual love letter, make sure to save it along with your will, in a safe location where your personal representative knows where to find it. In doing so, you will leave your family a tangible gift of love, hope and encouragement they can carry with them in the years to come.
3 Ways to Weave Giving Into Your Will
“How much should I leave to Westminster Seminary California (WSC) and the other ministries close to my heart?”
It’s a practical question asked by those who are working out the details of their wills or trusts.
Your best answer depends on your circumstances, objectives and values. However, many families consider one of three giving models.
1. Percentage or Tithe
Many individuals allocate a certain percentage of their will toward WSC and other Kingdom causes. Some designate 10 percent to reinforce the biblical concept of tithing to their families.
2. Child Named Charity
Some families choose to add a “child named Charity” to their wills. By this method, for example, if a couple had four children, each of the children would receive 1/5 of their belongings, and the remaining 1/5 could go toward charity.
3. Gifts of Assets
People often designate real estate, business interests, life insurance, retirement assets, machinery or even personal collections as gifts to WSC. There are a number of reasons people do this, whether it’s because the property has special meaning, their children have no further use for it or because they wish to protect their families from unnecessary taxes.
What’s the right answer for you? It may be helpful to talk with a trusted ally who can help you sort through all the options to determine the best fit for your goals and circumstances.
Through WSC’s partnership with Barnabas Foundation, you have direct access to this kind of trusted planning support. At no cost to you, you can speak with a planner who will help you identify a plan that honors God, cares for your family and furthers the important mission of your favorite ministries.
How to Find Common Will-Planning Ground With Your Spouse
What a wonderful miracle marriage is! God brings two different people – with unique personalities, experiences and opinions – and binds them together in a beautiful, holy union.
Of course, unity doesn’t come without its challenges – and this is especially true when creating a will or estate plan.
One person may have strong viewpoints on how their wealth should be transferred, while the other person has significant anxiety. Likewise, couples may have diverging viewpoints on what and how much should be given to their children or what should go to charity.
If will planning is a hot-button conversation for you and your spouse, you’re in good company! Here are four steps to help you move past your differences and toward the completion of an effective estate plan.
1. Call it out
This is a difficult topic and likely very emotional. Acknowledge this from the get-go, and commit to listening and honoring one another.
2. Put away your boxing gloves
Don’t treat this conversation as a battle that will be won or lost. Come to the conversation prayed up and determined to find common ground.
3. Discuss shared values
You have faith and values that have become the bedrock of your marriage and parenthood. Take a step back from the expected distribution plan. What do you really want to accomplish and model to your loved ones through your plan?
4. Identify areas of difference or concern
Where do you see things differently? More importantly, why? Listen carefully to one another with the intent to understand.
5. Explore creative solutions
Look for the planning solutions that support your shared values and help you achieve your ultimate goals.
Many couples enlist the help of a trusted planner to guide them through these difficult conversations. Experienced planners have waded in these deep waters many times before, and they can help you identify creative solutions to move forward.
Through WSC’s partnership with Barnabas Foundation, you have direct access to this kind of trusted planning support. At no cost to you, you can speak with someone who not only understands the tax-wise options available, but who also approaches planning from a values-driven, God-honoring perspective.