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Timothy 5:8 – “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Beyond Paul’s reminder to Timothy, Scripture is filled with warnings for believers to be wise and prepared in providing for loved ones. In a world sprinting farther away from God’s will by the minute, however, special considerations are necessary to ensure that believers’ estates are ready for harder times sure to come. Whether readers have already met with an advisor and plotted out their estate plan or not, seven questions must be answered today to know whether further consideration and updates are necessary.
While the question may seem elementary, it is important to clarify intentions at the outset of estate planning to be sure that the result of the estate plan will be in pursuit of the stated goals. For example, if the purpose of an estate plan is to support certain individuals so that they can attend college or purchase a house, the plan should be structured differently than if the purpose is to minimize taxes. While there are certainly plans that achieve multiple goals, it is critical to list goals at the beginning of the estate planning process to be sure they are not dictated by an outside influence as the process proceeds.
More than ever before, recent conversations in my office have turned to the issue of whether their children, grandchildren or other beneficiaries are likely to use any assets received for God-honoring purposes. Whereas in the past people were (too) comfortable that beneficiaries would be wise in the use of inherited assets, too many clients have seen beneficiaries squander inheritances on foolish or even destructive pursuits that leave the beneficiary worse off for having inherited. Whether you have seen such waste or not, considering how a beneficiary’s life is likely to be impacted by an inheritance is a vital consideration that every individual should make in planning for the distribution of their estate. Our goal in our estate plans is to glorify God by helping others, so we need to make sure that outcome is likely before we provide a life-changing amount of money to a beneficiary.
Similar to the concerns raised about individual beneficiaries, many of us have watched as organizations who were once Biblically sound (or at least appeared so) have fallen into worldliness with their alleged ministries. If charities are a part of your estate plan, the fact that the government considers them to be valid is not nearly enough to justify our contributions. Instead, we must all take the time and effort to explore and monitor organizations to be sure they are living up to their reputations. If they are not, our contributions are likely best directed to organizations that are.
In light of seismic differences between some medical treatment providers and their patients with regard to the treatment of various conditions, it is important to understand the balance of power between our appointed health care power of attorney agent and our medical providers when important decisions are being made. Not only do we need to appoint agents who understand our worldview and wishes in the event of a medical decision, but we need to make sure our documents have not in any way compromised their ability to carry out those decisions. While in times past, agents would be required to agree with doctors before making medical decisions, that may not be our wish now, and our documents need to clarify that state of affairs.
As stated above, it is vital to appoint agents who understand our worldview and wishes in the event of a medical event. As many have seen in the last two years, people can have drastically different opinions on medical issues, so having regular conversations with our agents to be sure we’re “on the same page” is vital. If it becomes apparent that an agent no longer thinks about medical decisions the same way you do, then making a change while you’re healthy is much more peaceful than setting up a conflict between that agent and other, more connected, relatives when tensions are highest.
As an estate planning attorney, not many weeks go by between me hearing “I did my own estate planning documents” and being presented with documents that are not legally or even logically sufficient to carry out an individual’s wishes. While I certainly understand the hesitancy of people to spend their hard-earned money on having a professionally planned and executed estate plan, I can state in no uncertain terms that a homemade estate plan is much more likely to result in unintended consequences based on uninformed drafting. It is also much more likely to result in expensive and painful lawsuits between families left behind as everyone struggles to understand what was intended by a document that was prepared by someone who had never prepared one before. Homemade pies are better than professionally-prepared ones. Homemade wills are worse. Those interested in saving money in the long run must understand that paying a professional is an investment than usually leaves you with more money to distribute to your heirs than taking a shot yourself.
The final consideration when having an estate plan prepared is an understanding of how often it should be reviewed. As much as clients love to breathe a sigh of relief and pat themselves on the back for getting their estate plan done, it is important to set a reminder to pull it out of the safe, dust it off and take a look at it every five to seven years. In that time, relatives might leave us, relationships will change, and laws will be modified in ways we might not have anticipated. Further, we want to be sure that financial institutions and hospitals have documents they are comfortable they can rely on, and that generally means documents that are less than seven years old. Make plans to review your estate plan at that interval to be sure it will work when it’s needed.
With all of the above questions answered, please take the time to update your estate plan today, regardless of how simple or complicated it must be. We are stewards of God’s resources while we are here, and we need to take that obligation seriously.Read more
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