One of the most significant acts of stewardship a Christian can make is to leave money to a local church or other Christian cause through a will. Unfortunately, many Southern Baptists make no plans for distributing their possessions after they die. But a new initiative called My Legacy of Faith (MLOF) is attempting to change that.
Through the MLOF Web site (www.my- legacyoffaith.org), Southern Baptists can begin planning how to distribute their estates to benefit both their families and favorite ministries while also reducing taxes. In addition, the site provides a template for a legacy will — a document that records important memories and thoughts for family to remember for generations to come.
Mylegacyoffaith.org features resources that churches can use to explain and promote estate giving. Short videos recounting the legacies of Southern Baptist leaders like Morris H. Chapman, president of the Executive Committee, and Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, will be posted soon.
A Matter of Stewardship
"The greatest act of stewardship that anybody can ever do is their estate plan," said Warren Peek, president of the Southern Baptist Foundation. "Currently in the United States, 70 percent of people don't have a will or an estate plan. Of the 30 percent that do, only about 7 percent leave money in their estate to any charity. So there's a world of opportunity out there."
The MLOF initiative is sponsored by the Southern Baptist Foundation. One goal of the MLOF initiative is to encourage Southern Baptists to tithe from their estates just as they have tithed from their income during life.
According to Peek, most believers have little concept of the powerful impact estate giving can have for God's Kingdom. For example, if only 10 percent of the more than two million Southern Baptists who are currently over age 65 (about 202,000) tithed their estates to SBC Great Commission causes, the Convention would receive an additional five billion dollars for Kingdom purposes over the next twenty years. The eternal value of the number of new missionaries sent and people engaged for the Gospel is incalculable.
For example, in a congregation of one hundred members, tithes from the estates of only ten percent of its members could generate as much as a quarter of a million additional dollars over a twenty year period.
People "don't think about their house, all its contents, their retirement plans. They don't even think about the life insurance that they leave," Peek said. "But when you start adding all of that up, it gets over $250,000 easily."
While some may worry that estate giving will deprive family members of money, Peek said it teaches family members a lesson that is more valuable than money.
"You're not going to cut your kids out," he said. "You're actually showing your kids and teaching your kids about giving and about stewardship. And I think it's very important nowadays to teach our children about giving."
Though eternal impact is estate giving's most important benefit, it carries tax benefits as well.
Beginning in 2011, estates valued at more than $1 million will be taxed up to 55 percent, Peek noted. But by giving $500,000 to charity, an estate of $1.5 million would be moved into a lower tax bracket, avoid estate tax altogether, and still leave $1 million for family.
"The more money that you can put in your estate to your church or to the organizations that you support, the more money that will go to your family and less money that will go to the government," Peek said.
He added, "Since estates valued under $1 million are already exempt from estate tax, there is no additional tax benefit for money willed to charity. However, the eternal value of such contributions cannot be overstated. Contributions to Kingdom causes are ultimately a matter of the heart. This is an additional way we can be stewards of Christ in the fullest sense."
The Genesis of MLOF
The MLOF initiative emerged from the work of an estate stewardship task force formed in 2008 by representatives from the Southern Baptist Foundation, state Baptist foundations, SBC entities, and other Baptist groups. The task force hopes to popularize the phrase "whole life stewardship" to encourage estate giving.
"Whole life stewardship may not be a common phrase, but we hope that it becomes a common understanding among Baptists and other believers as well," said Tom Kemner, a task force member and vice president for donor care at the Southern Baptist Foundation. "The first step in 'stewarding' your life is 'stewarding' your soul — having a saving relationship with and through Jesus Christ, but from there it grows.
"It is important for every believer 'to steward' the story of God's grace they have experienced throughout their life and pass that story on to their heirs. Scripture tells us we are 'to steward' the natural and spiritual gifts we are given in service. And, lastly, we are 'to steward' not only the money in our check books in tithes and Spirit-led offerings but we are also 'to steward' the stuff we accumulate over our lifetime. That is what we mean by a steward who is 'fully functioning.'"
According to Peek, who is also a member of the task force, most Southern Baptists will be able to make a greater impact through estate giving than they ever imagined.
"Giving in your estate plan to your local church and to other charities that you support really shows the philanthropy and the giving of the heart which you lived for, which you supported your whole life. And it's a great example for your kids to follow," Peek said.
For more information on MLOF or estate giving, contact your state Baptist foundation or the Southern Baptist Foundation at 800-245-8183.
Statement of Intent by the Estate Stewardship Task Force
The Task Force is a group representing a cross section of Southern Baptist entities volunteering with the goal of promoting and developing a culture of Biblical Estate Stewardship with a unified, large-scale, consistent message.
This message is consistent with Biblical "whole life stewardship," developing an understanding and maximum use of all resources including financial resources, natural gifts and spiritual gifts with which God has entrusted us.
We believe: God owns everything; we are called to be stewards of our time, talent and treasure; the single largest act of financial stewardship most Southern Baptists will ever undertake involves how they plan and distribute their estate assets. Therefore, we desire every Southern Baptist to have the opportunity to participate in quality estate planning as an act of stewardship.
This initiative seeks to create value for churches and pastors to enhance their ministry and impact, as well as all Southern Baptist ministry entities.
We seek to develop a promotional theme and resources that flow from that theme, and tools that add value at each level of service-benefiting churches, state conventions/foundations, para-church organizations, individuals and other entities that participate in encouraging and implementing Biblical Estate Stewardship. Participants may opt to use promotional tools and other resources in part or in total.