Bequests: The gift of a lifetime

How can your financial resources bless others after you die?

Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash

For most of us, our bequest is the most significant gift that we will make to our church or ministry.

That is because our bequest comes from our estate after our lifetime. Our estate is a lifetime of resources that we carefully gathered and tended for our personal use — a house to live in, a retirement account to care for ourselves, and a few things we’ve gathered to enjoy. Through a lifetime of hard work; of difficult decisions; of sacrifices; often with risk; often with caution — we have sought to manage these as wise stewards.

After our lifetime, we let go of it all: our house, financial accounts, possessions. We point all of these in new directions. We assign them to their next caretaker(s) like our loved ones, our church or other ministries — so that these things can be used as our proxy-energy to continue our love, our care and our faith.

This is big: Our bequest is our gift of a lifetime. 

And a bequest is often surprisingly simple:

  1. Choose your beneficiary.
  2. Decide how much or what you would like to give.
  3. Write the specifics into your will or living trust.

Yes, you should work with an attorney to ensure that your wishes are properly documented and legally binding. They can help navigate any challenges should they arise.

There is more.

Three little things can actually make a good bequest into a great bequest:

  1. Start right: Decide to enjoy this process. Often bequests emerge from duty or obligation. Instead, start from joy and generosity. Envision what it will mean to those who come next. Hold that feeling out-front through the entire process.
  2. Tell: Consider telling the church or charitable beneficiary of your intentions. Their awareness may help in planning. You may also sidestep avoidable delays in getting your gift to work.
  3. Teach: Amplify the impact by sharing the why of your bequest. By pairing your story and faith with your gift, you can inspire. You can bring connection and context so future generations can know you — as more than a transaction.

There are several alternative testamentary gift types, although bequests are the most common. Each gift type suits a different profile: Some provide tax savings; some pay the giver an income; some are easy. Most of these are governed outside of a will or living trust. Some common alternatives:

  • Charitable Remainder Trusts offer the giver flexible benefits including a generous annual income for life or a number of years, tax benefits and a powerful gift to a church or other charities that you choose.
  • Donor Advised Funds are your giving account both today and even after your lifetime.
  • Qualified Retirement Assets can be the most heavily taxed asset in an estate. Giving this might leave your less tax-burdened assets to your loved ones.
  • Financial Accounts like savings and investment accounts are among the simplest charitable gifts initiated by changing your beneficiary form.

Despite having so many options, the right gift is usually apparent to your experienced advisors. They understand your unique situation and can focus quickly on what fits you best.

So, what is stopping us? Surprisingly, only 5% of estates provide for a charitable bequest. Yet 30% of those asked say that they would make a bequest — if they were asked to. So here it is:

“When you are finished with all you have been given by God, would you consider sharing some of it with a ministry or church that has blessed you? Would you equip tomorrow’s faithful so they too might thrive in ministry?”

A comfortable first step: Ministry Relations Officers at the Presbyterian Foundation discuss bequests and planned gifts with people just like you all the time. We are here to help, free of charge. If you don’t already know your contact, find them at the zip code search at the bottom of:

Thank you for considering making a bequest.