One day while Jesus was teaching the people someone in the crowd called out; “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus took the opportunity to teach an important lesson. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then Jesus related a parable to illustrate His point. There was a certain rich man who, because of his prosperity, determined to sit back and enjoy life. He built bigger barns to accommodate all his assets, intending to live off the income they would produce. Notice the word Jesus used to describe this man, and the consequences of his actions. “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”
We often think of this story as indicating our responsibility for our possessions even after we die, and rightly so. In order to determine who will take possession of our assets after death we must give direction for this while we are living. We can do that through a Will, Trust, or beneficiary designations. There is no doubt we all need to do this. Some people believe if they don’t have a Will the State will get everything, but that is not the case. In fact, they won’t get anything. There are laws of intestate (dying without a Will) that govern where assets go. They may go to a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, nieces and nephews, or cousins, depending on the dynamics of the deceased person’s family. However, one place they will never go intestate is to a church or charity. Therefore, if we would remember God’s work with the assets of our estate, we need to make that determination before we die.
Ellen White wrote about our responsibility to be faithful to God with the resources He has blessed us with. “Many are not exercised upon the subject of making their wills while they are in apparent health. But this precaution should be taken by our brethren. They should know their financial standing and should not allow their business to become entangled. They should arrange their property in such a manner that they may leave it at any time.” [i]
She also stated that “Wills should be made in a manner to stand the test of law.” This is why it is better to have competent attorneys draft the document. She also noted that “death will not come one day sooner, …. because you have made your will.” She recognized that the needs of one’s family should be considered, but to “be sure that you do not forget God's cause,” because “it is the Lord's property which you are handling.”[ii]
As important as it is to make this determination before we die, we should also consider what we are doing with our assets while we are living. Clearly, we should do our best to provide for our own living so, if possible, we do not need to rely on family or other individuals to provide for our care. Social Security, pensions, and other investment income may provide the needed capital to accomplish this goal. However, a word of caution is appropriate here. How much do we need to accumulate in order to provide for our needs? Notice once again the counsel God gives through the pen of inspiration:
“Many people selfishly retain their means, and soothe their conscience with a plan for doing some great thing for the cause of God after their death. They make a will donating a large sum to the church and its various interests, and then settle down with a feeling that they have done all that is required of them. Wherein have they denied self by this act? They have, on the contrary, exhibited the true essence of selfishness. When they have no longer any use for their money they propose to give it to God. But they will retain it as long as they can, till they are compelled to relinquish it by a messenger that cannot be turned aside.”
“Such a will is often an evidence of real covetousness …. If we leave others to accomplish that which God has left for us to do, we wrong ourselves and Him who gave us all we have. How can others do our work of benevolence any better than we can do it ourselves? God would have every man, during his lifetime, the executor of his own will in this matter.”[iii]
It is easy for us to conclude that we have earned what we own and it is ours to use as we please. However, the Bible counsels us to “remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”[iv] I challenge you to give careful consideration to your plans for using the resources God has blessed you with. By all means, be sure you have documents in place for the distribution of your estate after you die. In addition to that, sit down and prayerfully calculate how much is required to sustain your family’s needs. Then, by faith, give the rest to the work of spreading the good news of Jesus and His soon return.
(The Michigan Conference Planned Giving and Trust Services Department can assist you with a Will, Trust, Charitable Gift Annuity or other gift instrument. All documents are created by licensed attorneys. Call 517-316-1520 for an appointment.)