As an estate planning attorney, I meet with many generous people and discuss their plans with them for the transfer of their assets. In recent years, I have had the privilege of discussing and considering the transfer of assets within a Biblical context, and one question continues to confound me: Why don’t people do more of their gifting while they are alive to do it in person?
Looking into Scripture, we see regular examples of the transferring of assets or blessings during the life of the transferor. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph blessed their children and grandchildren while they were alive (although not without hijinks!). Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote letters to young Timothy to pass on his wisdom and guidance for doing the work of a pastor. Even Jesus Christ Himself breathed the Holy Spirit onto His disciples before He left them so that He could provide instructions as to how the gift was to be stewarded.
American Christian culture, however, seems to lean much more toward death as the time when assets are transferred. Could it be because people don’t want to face their own mortality in such an undeniable way? Or could it be because they don’t want to give up their stuff until they absolutely have to?
To be clear, there is clear Biblical guidance for leaving an inheritance to our children and grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 teaches “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.” What the Bible does not teach, however, is that we have to wait until after the separation of death to leave that inheritance.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy provides some helpful context on this issue. Paul states “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.”
Notice that the focus of the text is not on leaving property behind for our loved ones, but instead on providing for them. With that focus in mind, the question we must ask is: Can I provide for my family better by leaving them property to inherit through my estate, or by giving it to them during my life so I have the opportunity to show them how and with what kind of heart to use it?
The answer to that question lies in Proverbs 20:21, which reminds us that “An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”
Dropping money or property into a loved one’s lap at the stressful and overwhelming time of your death could be hasty and lacking in wisdom in planning for the transition. Using the opportunity the asset provides to disciple and train leaves loved ones prepared to take on the responsibility they will need for that asset and others.
It also blesses them with Christ-centered training and mindset, and gives the giver the joy of watching his or her assets bring blessings to the next generations by pointing them back to Jesus, the greatest Giver who ever gave.
Attorney Alan L. Spiegel, Jr.,
McLario, Helm, Bertling & Spiegel, S.C.
N88 W16783 Main St.
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051-2890
Tel: (262) 251-4210