Writing a will is an act of stewardship
If you can't take it with you when you die, you can at least decide where your money will go.
By Erik Alsgaard
As the saying goes, "You can't take it with you."
However, you can decide where it goes. That is where having a will comes in. Having one is an act of Christian stewardship, according to Frank Robert, associate director of the Mid-Atlantic United Methodist Foundation, which includes three annual conferences in the Northeastern Jurisdiction – Baltimore-Washington, Peninsula-Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania.
"One of the key things about a will: It is your last opportunity to pass on your Christian beliefs to your family and friends," said Robert. "Maybe in the Christian preamble, you could say, â€˜God entrusted me with these assets, and I'm passing them on.'"
A Christian preamble, said Robert, is a document where people can testify to their faith. For example, people might include a statement about why they tithe 10 percent of their assets to the church.
"Ten percent to the church can be very impactful," he continued, "and 90 percent to your kids, they'll be accepting of, hopefully."
Bringing your faith into your last will and testament is an act of stewardship, Robert added, because it shows others, even after death, where your priorities were in life.
"It shows where you put your value and trust," he said.
A recent ABC News poll found that while 50 percent of Americans have a will, only 42 percent have a living will or other so-called "advanced directives."
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), advance directives "are legal documents that allow people to communicate their decisions about medical care to family, friends and health-care professionals in the event that they are unable to make those decisions themselves."
Living wills, a form of an advanced directive, often address tissue and organ donation, which (if any) types of artificial nutrition to use and other medical concerns. Laws for drafting advance directives, living wills and powers of attorney vary by state; consult your lawyer.
A medical power of attorney, the NCI notes, "allows people to name another person to make decisions about their medical care if they are temporarily or permanently unable to communicate or make these decisions for themselves." The American Bar Association has an online form to assist in assigning medical power of attorney.
Having a will is important whether one has a spouse or legal partner, children or others whom one would expect to inherit an estate or remaining assets. Without a will, state law will determine where the assets will go. And just as writing a will in the first place is important, so is keeping it updated as potential heirs and circumstances change.
Robert said that for those who do not have a will, he knows a good place to start.
"Every annual conference has connections to a local United Methodist foundation," he said. "Obviously, you want to have a lawyer to work with you."
Having a will, Robert said, is an act of Christian stewardship that can continue giving well beyond a person's death.
"These are some of the most important assets that you've put together over the years," Robert said. "If you're trying to tithe your time, talent and treasures, you want to make sure you do it in the right way and in the right place. Having an estate plan ... can really be worth its weight in gold."
The Rev. Erik Alsgaard is managing editor of UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.