By Jerry Love, Louisiana Baptist Foundation
Planning is a part of our daily lives. We plan menus for the day or week; we plan vacations; we plan meetings; and, … the list goes on.
Why, then, is it difficult to make plans for one of the more important parts of our lives – our estates?
Estate planning often is looked at as a dreaded or unpleasant task. Many people have expressed feelings that if they make plans for their estate their lives will be over. Others take a more cavalier approach, saying “someone else can deal with that after I am gone.”
As followers of Christ, we should all be interested in the stewardship of our assets, or our “stuff.”
A prayerfully thought-out estate plan can be the largest single act of stewardship that you will undertake in your lifetime. Indeed, determining how to take care of others, how to be a blessing to others and how to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ through your personal planning is stewardship.
So, take a look at some essentials of estate planning, which is stewardship!
The first step is as simple as making a list of the people who are most important to you. This should include anyone (children, spouse, grandchildren, parents) in your care during your lifetime and for whom you need to provide care after your death. This list also can include those you want to “bless” — extended family or friends to whom you would like to leave a gift, either monetary or a personal item.
Additionally, you should consider what to donate to your church, another ministry or other charitable organization to which you have a close connection. Leaving a gift to ministry that furthers the Gospel is one of the best ways to be a blessing to others!
Make a list of your personal assets, including bank and investment accounts, personal residence and other real estate, autos, boats, hunting vehicles, jewelry, firearms and etc. – anything of significance to you. Some items may have more sentimental value than monetary worth, but put them on the list, too.
There is a special class of assets that should be included in this list as well: life insurance policies, annuities, IRA’s and other retirement plans, along with pension accounts. All of these can provide significant blessings to others.
However, these assets will not be governed by the language of your last will and testament. Instead, each has a beneficiary statement that designates who is to receive all or a portion of the account after your death. This statement, signed by you, is a contract between you and the company backing the asset. Keep this in mind as you move forward with your estate plans.
Seeking the advice and assistance of a planning professional is important. For most people a relatively simple and straightforward last will and testament will handle the transfer of assets to heirs and legatees. Others may need to seek the advice of a CPA or tax accountant if there is a complicated estate or perhaps a family business interest involved. The Louisiana Baptist Foundation staff can assist with some of the more basic issues and may be able to help you determine what type of professional to seek for assistance.
Many people are concerned about the cost associated with estate planning. Remember that there are important and lasting decisions included in your estate plans. So, it is worth spending time, energy and money to see that your plans are completed properly.
One attorney friend compared the cost of estate planning to the cost of a “good set of tires.” Tires have certainly gone up in price in recent years, but, he advised, it is better to pay the price up front instead of enduring the consequences of a bad set of tires, later.
This is a good analogy for proper estate planning — it is worth the expense.
On that note, be cautious of online estate planning services.
Some internet legal advice sites claim their services are valid in all 50 states, but it pays to check with a local professional, particularly in the state of Louisiana. That “fill-in-the-blank” online data gathering website might not be all that it claims.
Now, just pick from the first list which people and organizations should get what in terms of the possessions entered on the second list, using the help of the professionals on the third list.
Sounds simple enough, right?
As always there are other considerations to take into account.
For instance, a ministry or charitable organization will not owe taxes on tax-deferred retirement assets, while an individual would be stuck with years of deferred taxes to pay.
Another thought, giving real estate in joint ownership to your heirs can possibly be a sticky situation if they cannot agree on what to do with the property. Likewise, leaving real estate jointly to family members and a charitable organization may cause friction. Typically, organizations like to “cash out” of such situations, forcing heirs to raise cash to buy out the charity.
Yes, being a good steward of your estate is not necessarily a simple task and, in some cases, can be complicated. But, fear not! As Believers we have an Advocate! Which brings us to the last “P” word…
This should first on the list, but is listed last, here, for emphasis.
Before listing people, before tallying up all your possessions, and prior to making an appointment with a legal or tax professional to help you with your plans, you should take time to PRAY!
Seek God’s guidance on who should be included in your plans, how to distribute assets and what assistance you should seek. Proverbs 3:5-6 comes to mind: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV)
Even in planning your estate, God is willing and able to direct your path. Trust Him!
The Louisiana Baptist Foundation helps those who desire to give to Baptist churches, ministries and organizations. We also serve as a resource to answer questions regarding estate planning.
Reach out to us via phone, (877) 523-4636, or email, Jerry@LBFinfo.org.