By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor
Clarence, the wingless angel: We don’t use money in heaven.
George Bailey: It comes in pretty handy down here, Bub.
From the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
Note: I am not a lawyer, and the following is not legal advice—just my perspective and experience.
Less than half of the adults in the United States have a will or other estate planning documents. Actually, that’s not quite true. All of us have a will—either one created BY US or one created FOR US by our state government. Do you think your state government would distribute your property the same way you would?
If you haven’t made your own estate plans, please get busy on this—especially if you have minor children. Maybe you think you don’t have enough assets to worry about, or you’ve listed beneficiaries for your bank accounts and insurance policies. You still need a will and perhaps other estate planning documents. Otherwise, your loved ones will have a tough time dealing with your earthly possessions. It will take them a TREMENDOUS amount of time, and perhaps considerable travel and expense to get things straightened out—at the same time they are grieving your passing.
I know this from painful personal experience. My brother-in-law died several years ago after a brief illness. He never married, lived across the country, didn’t have a will, and was not organized in his paperwork. He didn’t have much, but he did have a bank account and a rusted out car. Do you know how hard it is to sell (or even give away) a car if you don’t have the title and have to coordinate transfer among four siblings who are now, according to the state, co-owners?
Also, during our 30+ year marriage, we have lost four parents. While it was never easy dealing with their possessions, the parents who were organized in their estate planning and “the paperwork of life” made the process much smoother.
So what does this have to do with planned giving? As a result of our personal experiences, my husband and I appreciate the value of planning for the inevitable. Also, as a result of our personal experiences, WE KNOW that this planning takes time, energy, and coordination among ourselves and legal professionals. It also costs money.
Let’s say a very good development officer asks us to consider making provisions in our estate plans for her ministry. We like the idea, and are open to a gift. What we don’t like is the process associated with making the gift. Visiting our lawyer, dealing with paperwork, and writing him a check—well let’s just say we wouldn’t do it.
BUT the next time we have to update our estate plans for other reasons, adding in a planned gift would be easy.
As development officers, we don’t know when our potential benefactors are going to set up or tinker with their estate plans—the PERFECT time for them to also make a provision for a planned gift. This means that our communication about planned giving must be ongoing. We should bring it up often, using different media, and with great sensitivity. Gentle “face-to-face” asks at the right time, as well as reminders in our newsletters, social media and appeals are all ways to get benefactors to consider these gifts.
When do people change their estate plans? When their circumstances of life change OR when the laws governing their estate change. Here are the times my husband and I changed our estate plans: when we got married; when we moved to Texas and the wording in our previous wills needed to change to fulfill our wishes; when we had kids; when one of our kids was old enough to serve as a guardian of the other if anything happened to us; when we realized that our estate required more than a simple will; and when we sold some property.
Each of these updates required discussions with each other, compromising differences of opinion, organizing and updating the paperwork of life, a visit to a lawyer, and writing a check. In other words, this process, while necessary, isn’t fun, costs money, and takes time. That’s why people put off estate planning. Nobody wants to contemplate their own death and make the sometimes hard decisions about the disposal of their earthly possessions. Yet, as responsible adults and as Christians who strive to be good stewards, we are called to do just that.
When somebody is ready to engage in estate planning, you want to make sure they are also thinking about a planned gift. Therefore, ask gently and often!
One more thing about planned giving. The amount of a planned gift tends to be “large.” They are well worth your development efforts. However, if you are successful in your outreach, it could be years before your ministry receives a gift. That makes it VERY tempting to put off doing this work for other projects with more immediate and tangible results. It also makes it a bit challenging to justify any expense associated with this outreach.
Yet, these planned giving programs are true investments. If your development ministry communicates the value of planned giving, over time, your ministry will start to see these gifts come in. While their arrival will be unpredictable, it is ALWAYS nice for your ministry to receive these gifts. Also, you get a warm feeling knowing that your benefactors thought about the good that your ministry does when they contemplated their own mortality. Your ministry mattered to them and it gave them joy to help it along as they prepared for their eternal reward!
How can you incorporate planned giving awareness and marketing in your development efforts?