It’s not unusual for me to speak to supporters as they make a gift that is part of an inheritance. They often describe both a blessing and a responsibility. It is a moment that can help meet immediate and practical needs in our lives, but there’s often a deeper layer of relationship, value and connection to someone who has passed away, and to the Kingdom of God.
I recently spoke with Eleanor* who made a gift to TEAR when her father’s estate was finalised. She describes it as a unique opportunity, but also a privilege. She felt strongly that tithing this gift was an important part of supporting several Christian ministries.
“I like to think about Chronicles” she says and reminds me of 1 Chronicles 29. The passage speaks about David gathering the items from the people of Israel as they prepare to build the temple.
But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!
It’s a theme that Eleanor comes back to over the duration of our conversation. That all of our earthly resources are ultimately part of God’s economy. Whether we’re planning our own estate, or administering others, using wise stewardship principles is a huge responsibility.
“I was raised Methodist, so we were always taught the importance of stewardship” says Eleanor.
Regrettably the opportunity that accompanies an inheritance also carries enormous potential for conflict and strain. It’s not uncommon for wills to be contested by many parties and many of the conflicts are due to three broad causes - Need, Greed, and Entitlement.
Eleanor reflects on the wisdom of her own father, and her father-in-law who both saw, and experienced, conflict over estates in their lifetimes.
“Dad communicated with us how things were planned ahead of time. We knew how things would be managed.” Along with her two siblings, Eleanor was the joint executor of her father’s estate and whilst there was potential for conflict, the three brought enormous goodwill to the process - even in the difficult moments.
I ask her how the experience of receiving an inheritance changes the way that she’d plan her own estate with her husband. “We’ll give money before that” she says confidently. It’s an example that her father-in-law had set in his lifetime. Understanding how messy estates can become he took the time to simplify his estate well ahead of his passing, making the process significantly easier.
Ultimately, Eleanor describes both the opportunity and the responsibility to make wise decisions throughout our lifetime. “It’s just such a privilege to be able to give” says Eleanor, recognising that she and her husband both have causes that they are passionate about that reflect their life experiences.
It’s an experience that another TEAR supporter - Ken* - shares with me. He reflects on two examples of inheritance in his life.
Ken’s first experience was the receipt of some funds when an uncle passed away suddenly.
“We were a young, newly married couple when he passed away in a car accident. We didn’t have children and the inheritance really relieved some pressure” says Ken.
Ken reflects on the situation that many newlyweds face as they work towards establishing a financial footing. Although as young Christians they were regularly tithing their income, this particular gift really reduced the immediate pressures that the couple faced. It enabled them to use money wisely that would prepare them for the future and for anticipated needs down the track. The gift was a benefit in the short-term and long-term.
A elderly member of the extended family had become increasingly unwell. “There was the expectation that she wouldn’t be with us much longer” says Ken. Without children of her own, this family member included her extended family in her will. Ken and his siblings were included in the estate. The gift was significant and made a big difference to their daily life. “It really was quite different” reflects Ken. “A hundred thousand dollars goes a long way. A gift several times that is quite life-changing.”
As Ken and his family considered how to use this wisely they were faced with an important realisation - that these funds were not originally theirs and there was a real need to honour the memory of this family member in the way that funds were allocated.
“We really needed to give these funds much more consideration.” says Ken.
The inheritance has allowed Ken to retire (slightly) early and spend some more focussed time with grandchildren. It also meant the pressure of the monthly bills isn’t there. But Ken is very conscious of taking a global perspective on his situation.
“We live as the wealthiest one percent in the world and see living in Sydney as a ‘normal’ thing. But it’s not normal in most of the world.” Ken is very aware of the challenges that his children continue to experience looking to own a home in a hyper-inflated Sydney property market. And yet he’s aware of the danger that money creates.
“There’s a danger of being caught up in greed.”
We reflect on Matthew 13 - the Parable of the Sower. Verses 22 and 23 prove particularly striking.
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
The deceitfulness of wealth - the danger of it obscuring what is truly important - is very clear in this passage.
I ask Ken what the experience has taught him, and how it might shape his own estate planning in the future.
The first reflection is what a generous gift it is - one that can be shared with others. Not only in a financial sense, but the legacy he can contribute now to his grandchildren. The ability to spend time with them and have the freedom to concentrate on family.
The second is much more challenging. We reflect on the examples of billionaires who have publicly pledged to give their wealth to charity. “We all need to say enough is enough” says Ken. He laments that Australia’s culture of philanthropy is not what it could be. “I’m sure many friends see an inheritance as a great opportunity to spend more.”
Both Eleanor and Ken reflect on not only the opportunity to receive a gift, but the opportunity to share it. That ultimately our responsibility is to steward what God has entrusted to us. That the resources we hold are just a portion of His great gift to us.
A gift that can be shared.