Recognizing planned giving as a ministry

By Michael Prior, J.D.

In recent years, the church has embraced several budgeting and debt retirement studies. Essentially, good stewardship practices tell us not spend more than we make.

Debt is a problem we can see right now. And with a little guidance and discipline, we can be liberated from it.

The problems we face without an estate plan in place are not so obvious — but they’re very real.


60 – 30 – 10 and the probate system

Estimates are that 60% of us die with no will, virtually guaranteeing the probate court will be sorting out our affairs.

Another 30% have a will in place, but it’s likely outdated. So, these are still heading to probate unless our estate value stays under the probate threshold for your state.

Do you know the dollar value that triggers probate in your state? Add up the value of your home, savings and investments — all probate assets. If their combined total doesn’t exceed $75,000 in Florida, $50,000 in Texas, $15,000 in Michigan, and so on, your heirs can implement a simplified procedure to take possession of your assets. If you exceed these levels, a full probate is most likely in your loved ones’ future. (To see the specific probate threshold for your state, you can find a chart at fpm.org/probate.)

Why avoid probate?

• It’s costly — ranging from 2% to 8% or more of estate value in total fees.

• It’s lengthy — ranging from 9 months to 2 years or more while
family waits.

• It’s public. Probate records are open to the public; inheritances
often revealed.

As of January 1, 2018,  $11.2 million per person and $22.4 million per couple is now exempt from federal estate tax — but probate still awaits.

Add up your total estate value and apply a mid-level 5% cost from probate fees, and you’ll be unpleasantly surprised! A $700,000 estate could average $35,000 in total costs.

This is where the lack of simple planning becomes a stewardship issue. Can you think of ways those dollars could better reflect your values than funding the court system?

If so, there’s some good news … 

Probate is optional

By choosing a revocable trust rather than a basic will, your estate can be passed on to loved ones without the probate court’s involvement. Often an adult son,

planned-giving
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daughter or a corporate trustee is named by you to distribute your trust to your loved ones and charities, quickly and quietly. No court, no court fees, and your information remains private — unavailable to the public.

Estate planning as a ministry of stewardship

Young parents benefit from knowing that they have a plan in place which names guardians of their own choosing to raise their minor children in the event of tragic, unexpected circumstances. These days, we know that can occur from something as innocent as a visiting a movie theater or public event.

Older individuals benefit from knowing that, in case of some future incapacity, persons they have designated can step in on their behalf and manage assets for them without court involvement.

All persons are able to provide instructions — through advance health care directives — that give instructions on specific wishes for care in case of permanent incapacity.

They also know they have a plan in place that will ensure the most efficient, cost-effective way to pass on their estate to loved ones with privacy, and that the cost savings from avoiding probate can be redirected to ministries they care about.


Michael Prior, J.D., is president of Irvine, Calif.-based Financial Planning Ministry. FPM was formed 30 years ago as a nonprofit to serve the church and its members with education in an important, but often unrecognized, area of stewardship: biblical estate planning.

FPM offers free, 90-minute seminars hosted by partner church ministries to explain (in plain English) how wills and trusts work; the detrimental effects of probate; and a path / plan forward. To date, the group has served more than 24,000 families; no investments have been sold, and no monies have exchanged hands. Before joining the organization, Prior served as executive pastor at Central Christian Church in Mesa, Ariz.

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