First person by Brenda McCollum, January is ‘Make Your Will’ month
Making a will has ramifications both now and eternally
by BRENDA McCOLLUM
Special to Florida Baptist Witness

Article Date: Jan 20, 2014

McCOLLUM
If you watch the season premier of PBS’s Downton Abbey, you just learned the importance of a will. Lady Mary’s minor child would have inherited most of his father’s estate had a writing purporting to be a will, and determined to be legally sufficient as such, not been located. 

The same thing can happen to your family. I was told of a couple, here in Florida, who did not have a will. The husband had a million dollar life insurance policy with which he intended to take care of his family. Unfortunately, the policy listed his “estate” as the beneficiary and with no will state law gave a paltry amount to his widow while the major part of his insurance went into a trust for his minor children. His widow was left in the untenable position of having to go to a trustee to request money any time there was a need. 

January is “Make Your Will” month and a good time for you to consider how your will can affect your life, the lives of those you love, and Kingdom causes. 

There are many reasons why we need a will.  The one most obvious is to determine who gets our assets when we die. That decision may sound easy, but for many it is not. 

Consider the case of a couple with a child who has an addiction—be it alcohol, drugs or gambling. The godly parents do not wish to leave the addicted child out, but they also do not wish to contribute to the addiction. Without a will, that child would get the same amount as the responsible children and at the same time. With a will, those parents can restrict the addict’s inheritance through the use of a trust, and delay distribution until the child is free from addiction.

In addition, a will can be used to “even up” the estate.  I have met many people who have made loans to their children of large sums of money but have never been paid back. They see it as unfair that the other children are denied their fair share of the money that was lent. To equalize the inheritance, through a will the unpaid amount can be deducted from the delinquent child’s inheritance and divided among the other children. 

Some parents will choose to leave an unequal inheritance based upon the financial needs of the heirs. After all, God did not distribute an equal amount to the 12 tribes of Israel. He numbered the tribes, meticulously, and then distributed based upon the NEED of the tribe. 

As one family said to me, “why would we pile millions upon millions” when there are so many needs elsewhere. They chose to give most of their worldly goods back to the Lord.  Without a will, that gift could not have happened. They have discovered the BEST reason for having a will—and that is to give back to the Lord some of what He has allowed you to manage during your life. 

One of the most important reasons for having a will is to provide for family members. In 1 Timothy 5:8, it says, “but if any provide not for his own, and especially those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” 

Providing for the family is not just about finances, but includes naming guardians for minor children or children with special needs. Nothing is more important than who will rear your children. This is not a decision you want to leave to the court system. For you to choose guardians, you need to have a will. It is irrelevant that you told your best friends that you would like for them to take your children if it is not placed in writing. Do not leave the decision to chance or a mere hope that you will always be there for them. 

A will is not the only document needed in a basic estate plan. Perhaps more important, at least during your lifetime, is a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and a Living Will (LW) and Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA).  

The DPOA allows you, during your lifetime and while you are competent, the opportunity to name someone to make financial decisions for you if you can no longer do so yourself. It is often overlooked and can be an expensive mistake if guardianship is required. 

Even spouses should have DPOA’s to each other.  Why? Because some assets cannot be jointly owned such as IRA’s, 401k’s, and even insurance policies are generally owned by one individual.  You cannot access your spouse’s retirement account or any cash value in a life insurance policy without a DPOA if they become incapacitated.  

This is true if you are helping aging parents. One man found out how important that DPOA was when he was trying to file insurance claims for his sick mother. They would give him no information, medical or otherwise, until he produced his mother’s DPOA giving him the power to act on her behalf. Do not wait until there is an emergency as the person giving the power MUST be competent and have capacity to say who is to have that power. 

The Living Will gives your instructions regarding end of life issues. Having had one parent who had a living will and one who didn’t, it is easier to make those tough decisions when your loved one has left you instructions. Sitting in a critical care unit waiting room, trying to figure out what your parent would want, is a difficult decision.  Having no instructions from them adds to the stress. Do your loved ones a favor and give them your instructions through a living will.

Some years ago, I prepared an estate plan for a couple. About three years later I saw them again when I was back in their area. She came over to me to thank me for doing their HCPOA.  You see, in those three years, her husband had a stroke and was in a wheelchair. She relayed to me how her wishes were being ignored until she produced that HCPOA. Things changed when she could prove that he had given her power over his healthcare decisions.  

All of these documents make up a basic estate plan and are needed by anyone over the age of 18.  While you are considering this, remember all that God has done for you and determine not his little, but how much you can leave to His kingdom. He gave His all for you, what legacy will you leave in your will?  Who knows the ripple effect that your gift will begin. Others may see your faithfulness and decide to follow in your footsteps. “Moreover it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful,” I Cor. 4:2.  May all who come after you, find you faithful. 

If you desire to give to the Kingdom through your estate plan, contact the Office of Strategic Endowed Giving to find out how they can help.  If your church could benefit from more information about wills and trusts, contact us to schedule a seminar in your church. Email Endowedgiving@flbaptist.org or call 1-800-226-8584, ext. 3030. 

Brenda B. McCollum J.D. is strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Office of Strategic Endowed Giving.

 

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