We recently had a family member hospitalized with COVID-19. It has made us acutely aware of the need for a will. Do you have any advice?
Getting Our House in Order
Dear Getting Our House in Order,
This is a good idea whether we have the threat of COVID-19 or not. I like to say that we all have a will: either one the government has for you, or one that you create by planning for the affairs of your estate. It is best to avoid the government's will for you!
Interestingly enough, Ann and I met with our attorney this week to update our estate plans. We were long overdue. Some of the decisions were easy to make; others required some counsel and prayer.
One of the reasons we desired to get ours done is because we have seen the emotional pain and hardship placed on survivors who have to settle affairs that were not kept current. A will is simply a legal document that declares your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and the care of minor children. But in today’s world, you actually need more legal documents to accompany your will that we will explain further below.
● Assuming there are not enough assets to leave anyone
● Thinking it is too expensive to set up
● Not knowing how to get one
● Clearly direct who gets what and how much
● Prevent estranged relatives from claiming interest
● Declare a guardian for your children
● Make it faster and easier for heirs to get assets
● Can save on estate taxes
Our attorney emailed documents for us to work through. After a week of doing our homework, we met with him on our front porch where he answered questions and gave advice. It was a painless, thought-provoking assignment that we hope will bless our survivors.
We know the pain family members experience when the deceased fail to leave adequate paperwork or directives. We have also heard horror stories of greed and fighting among beneficiaries in the absence of clear directions. We hope our lives impact our children far more than our things, but we also wanted to make our wishes very clear and to bless them with an inheritance.
We had eleven pages to complete. These included a brief description and value of assets, life insurance policies, debts and liabilities, distribution of property, personal representatives, trustees and guardians, powers of attorney, living wills and advanced healthcare directives, and other planning considerations.
Advanced directives (or advanced healthcare directives) stipulate one’s desires for end-of-life care and what they want should they be unable to communicate at some point. We felt like this was one of the most important questions to answer in our will. It removed the pressure of having to make emotional decisions from each other and our loved ones. We also signed HIPAA release forms necessary to get medical records that legally protect a patient’s privacy.
One of the considerations we needed to address was how to structure the inheritance for our grandchildren, and at what age and dollar amount our sons receive their portion. Divorce in married children, remarriage, and/or blended families require much more thought.
We no longer have minor children but a capable guardian was an important decision we made in our first will. In our updated will we named our executor and trustee, which is the surviving spouse as well as two backups should we both die at the same time. The executor is usually temporary. They get the will probated and assets distributed according to plan. The trustee is typically a longer-term role for more complex, enduring estates that involve long-term asset management.
It is important to keep the document safe and accessible. Avoid storing it in a bank safety deposit box or where a court order is needed to gain access. A home safe that is waterproof and fireproof is adequate. Your executor should know the location and code for entry as well as your attorney.
Review your will every few years and revise it at major life events that include marriage, divorce, births, deaths, and any significant changes of assets.
Other Considerations For Your Will
Consider leaving an “Emotional Will.” This is a short document that expresses your love and affirmation towards those who are named in your will. This is becoming a common practice in Asia. For many heirs, it is far more impactful and priceless to them than the things or money they receive.
We have seen a number of creative things required of heirs that are intended to either bless or prepare those receiving funds. These have included:
● A Crown course or the reading of a book like The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn, or a different one to be followed by oral examination by the executor.
● Time spent volunteering/working with the poor.
Personal items could include a letter to the beneficiaries with the Gospel, Bibles, testimonies, legacy of faith, or a charge for the family to carry on the good name that has been established.
The Inheritance of Believers
Paul explains carefully that we are all heirs in Christ Jesus. Remember, whether you have many or few earthly possessions to pass on to your loved ones, they, too, need to be found in Christ.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1: 11-14 ESV)
Also, while the Bible does commend the righteous man for leaving an inheritance for his children’s children, it does not specify that the inheritance involved money. A life filled with loving memories, shared experiences, grace, mercy, and a Godly example are of greater value than all the tangible assets that you will leave behind.
I hope this helps you get moving on a will and that God will protect you from this virus. Crown has a number of resources that may be helpful to you. Consider our “Planning Your Legacy - Will and Trust Guide” to help you get started.
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Money Problems, Marriage Solutions. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.