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Trillions of dollars at stake in 60-plus generation’s wills

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Trillions of dollars to be inherited during the next few decades may be quickly spent by younger heirs and of little benefit to Baptist churches and entities, say specialists in stewardship and estate planning.

“For the generation that is currently above age 60, somewhere between $10 trillion to $13 trillion will eventually be passed to the next generation or other beneficiaries, such as charitable causes,” noted David Coleman, director of development at the Southern Baptist
Foreign Mission Board.

Last June, FMB chairman Bill Blanchard appointed a special committee to plan a wise and deliberate response to the coming transfer of wealth between generations, Coleman noted.

“The committee is looking into the issue and how we will address it,” Coleman said. “One issue is how the Foreign Mission Board could become the beneficiary of some of these estates — particularly those who are Southern Baptists and have had a longtime commitment to foreign mission work.”

Harrell Cushing, director of stewardship development and Cooperative Program promotion for the Alabama Baptist State Convention, agreed intentionality is a key to Baptist churches and organizations becoming the beneficiaries of wills.

“We’ve not done a good job at giving these folks (who plan their wills) a vision of the impact they could have at helping bring the world to Christ,” said Cushing, a former FMB trustee chairman.

In one case, Cushing learned of a pastor who was disappointed when a wealthy member died and left nothing to
her church. “I thought she would probably leave a million
dollars or so to the church,” the pastor sadly told Cushing.
When Cushing asked the pastor if he had asked the woman
about the possibility of a bequest, the answer was no.

Some in the older generation have seen their eventual heirs mishandle money, prompting a will that bequeaths more to charities and less to surviving relatives.

“Individuals have told me they’ve given to their children and grandchildren to help them with education and homes, but they have not always been pleased with the way those funds have been used or cared for,” Coleman said. “The parents sometimes make plans to give a portion of their estate — in some cases, a significant portion — to charitable causes.”

Cushing indicated approximately 90 percent of inherited wealth is spent within 18 months. “That’s a frightening statistic,” he said.

Local churches likely will experience a tremendous impact as the older generation, which is largely faithful in tithing, passes from the scene.

Teaching tithing to the younger generation, for example, has lagged, Cushing said. “I think we have lost a great deal in that we don’t have as strong a program of discipleship training. I think churches need to do a
stronger job in teaching younger Christians to be faithful

Still, some younger adults would have financial trouble with a commitment to tithe, Coleman said. “Many of them are in financial straits and high commitments of debt. Some of them, even if they wanted to tithe, couldn’t create the dollars they need to meet their bills and give to the church. …

“We’re in a society that is very materialistic, and we’re being pushed to purchase things we don’t need, to replace things that aren’t broken and to buy things that everybody else has — and that creates debt,” Coleman said.

As treatment and remedy, both Cushing and Coleman urge churches to sponsor and teach courses on money management and stewardship.

Although baby boomers do not tithe to the same degree as their parents and grandparents, Cushing cautioned against assuming they are all failing in stewardship.

“I think we don’t need to totally generalize that generation, because many of those younger people I come into
contact with have been very faithful in stewardship, and some are extremely generous,” Cushing said. “Generally
speaking, they are sort of results-oriented.”

In fact, generosity toward churches may be on the upswing among younger Christians, Coleman said. “We’re seeing signs now that baby boomers are beginning to move into a higher giving category. A larger number of boomers are coming back to church, and some studies indicate they are giving more than they were first given credit for.”

Occasionally even the older generation, which has been so faithful to tithe, may overlook certain tithing obligations and opportunities.

“While some people tithe off their salary and income, their investments are growing, but they have not really considered giving at least a tithe of that to the Lord’s work,” Cushing said. “If we could get that idea into their
awareness, I think many of them would want to tithe those

While the assets of many state Baptist foundations have been increasing, Cushing said Baptist churches, agencies and entities need to put forth more effort in helping money flow from estates to Baptist causes.

“There is a significant growth in the foundations,” Cushing affirmed, “and I’m sure part of it has been the receipt of estate assets. … The growth (of assets at the Alabama foundation) has been almost phenomenal. It’s been unusually strong in the last 15 years or so, especially in the last decade.”

But Cushing suggested the present level of bequests to Baptists churches and entities is only “the tip of the iceberg as to what could be happening and what needs to happen.”

Christians who provide bequests to charities also may benefit their other heirs as well, Coleman noted. “The U.S.
government gives us an opportunity of giving a portion of
our estate to the government through taxation or making gifts to charitable causes. I don’t know of another country
in the world that does that.

“Because of this, people are able to make significant contributions to charitable causes, which reduces their tax
liability and thus provides more to their family.”

While tax savings can be an incentive for charitable giving, both for estate planning and during a person’s
lifetime, Coleman said it’s not usually the primary motivation among the FMB’s benefactors.

“I find most of those gifts are not really generated because of the tax issue but because of their desire to make
a difference in the world and to help the Foreign Mission
Board do the ministry that we’re about,” he observed. “Those
are some pretty significant reasons for giving.”

    About the Author

  • Keith Hinson