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Being of sound mind...

A cartoon shows a family sitting in the lawyer’s office as the last will and testament of the dearly departed is being read:“Being of sound mind and body… I spent it all.”

 


Written while Tom was on sabbatical by Cliff Underwood.

In my practice, I work with the “not-yet departed” as they seek help in drawing up their wills and making estate plans.

“Will the large inheritance be good for your kids?”What becomes apparent many times as we are discussing such matters is the unquestioning acceptance of society’s norm that we should somehow leave a large inheritance.   

Occasionally I have felt the freedom to ask my clients the question: “Will the large inheritance be good for your kids?” Someday, if I have the courage, I might also ask: “And is it good for your soul?”

Certainly the Bible recommends that we leave an inheritance for our families, but how much before we risk a negative impact on them? We have all heard the stories about money quickly received being quickly spent; about inheritances being treated like “found money.” Of equal or greater concern should be the effect that the expectation of a large inheritance may have on our children.

For instance, some studies, and our own common sense, tell us that the anticipation of a big legacy may destroy initiative.

If you are able, there is great value in beginning the transfer of resources to your children during your lifetime where you can put some proper preparation and guidance into it.Every family situation is unique, but I believe we need to give serious thought to the effect of an inheritance on our children. Ron Blue, among others, has written some excellent material on the inter-generational transfer of wealth. One of his key principles is summed up by his ad advice: “Never transfer wealth without first transferring wisdom.” He states that timing is important; do not leave it all to the end. If you are able, there is great value in beginning the transfer of resources to your children during your lifetime where you can put some proper preparation and guidance into it.

As well, and perhaps more significantly, during your lifetime you have the opportunity to model for your children an example of generosity in meeting needs around you, the kind of generosity that Paul spoke of in II Corinthians 9 and that rises from a thankful acknowledgment that all we are and have, our time and our talents, are only by the grace of God. 

Children who see their parents acting as conduits of God’s grace to the world around them, rather then as vaults where resources are hoarded, are not going to be living their lives in anticipation of the big inheritance payoff. Nor, I expect, will they experience the same negative impact that sudden wealth has had on so many people.    

Instead they catch the vision and excitement of using all the resources that God has given them in ways that reflect God’s values and purposes. That will be the best legacy we can give to them.   

The second question that I have not yet asked my client who feels compelled to leave a large inheritance: “Is it good for your soul?” also needs to be addressed. Society’s message that life is all about acquisition and accumulation must be critically evaluated in the light of the Biblical concept of stewardship. When does saving for retirement become hoarding?

Stewardship includes making thoughtful and proper provision for families, but it also involves directing our resources to matters which have eternal values, “where moth and rust do not corrupt.”

The true steward understands that he has a wise and loving Lord, and accordingly seeks to use all that his Lord has given him in a wise and loving way that reflects the very heart of God. Stewardship includes making thoughtful and proper provision for families, but it also involves directing our resources to matters which have eternal values, “where moth and rust do not corrupt.”

As members of the “not-yet departed” who want to do right by our families, our communities, and our Lord, we need to acknowledge the One “from whom all blessings flow” and who sustains us by His sheer grace. Perhaps then our wills can start with the words: “being of sound mind and body… I sough to live my live as a good steward.”