A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous. – Proverbs 13:22

Do you want to finish well? Would you like to create a lasting legacy? Is it important that you set a good example for generations to come?

The above verse can be interpreted as passing down financial wealth, passing down your values, or possibly both. Let’s look at practical ways that we can pass down a rich inheritance of values and wealth to our children and grandchildren.

Passing Down Wealth

Treat Heirs Uniquely, Not Necessarily Equally

Let me start our conversation by stating that you should treat your children uniquely, not equally. If you’re like me, you went into parenthood with the assumption that your children would be treated equally. You would discipline them the same, reward them the same, and talk to them the same. Then, something crazy happens when you have your second child. The second child is COMPLETELY different from the first! Suddenly, you’re faced with the reality that the way you disciplined your first child just won’t work for the second. The rewards you used to praise your firstborn have no value to the second-born. What’s going on here!?

I realize this can be a tough subject. Maybe you CAN treat your children equally when it comes to passing down wealth, but be sure to consider their unique attributes first. God has custom-built each and every one of us. We all have our own tendencies and habits, strengths and struggles. As an example, would it be wise to split an inheritance 50/50 immediately with two sons that are very different in nature? Son #1 that has a close walk with the Lord, gives regularly at church, and has a history of wise financial stewardship will likely be fine. What about the other son who struggles with alcoholism or addiction? What about the son who has habitually wasted their money on frivolous items while they neglect the more important matters of life? What about the son who refinances their home every 3 years just so they can pay off credit card debts that they continue to run-up on 4-wheelers, eating out, or fishing trips? Should these children be treated equally or uniquely?

If we are being honest, leaving a large sum of money to a child that is undisciplined can ruin their lives. They might use the money in a way that actually causes more harm than good. This is why we must learn to treat our children uniquely, not equally. At the very least, consider putting legal documentation in place to protect an irresponsible child from blowing it all at once.

Tools of the Trade

At StrongTower, we do not have attorneys that actually prepare your legal documents. Our job is to coordinate with your existing attorney to assist in the process. There are several tools that you can use, but the main two are:

Basic Will

Most people are familiar with the concept of a will. This is a document that explains your desires for passing down possessions, cash, and accounts to your heirs. What some people don’t realize, however, is that a will still has to go through probate. This means the court system will be involved with interpretation of your documented wishes. Because of this, a will does NOT avoid probate costs and delays. The good news is that a will is usually inexpensive to setup. In fact, some people do it themselves with a book or website as a guide. Personally, I prefer to hire an experienced attorney for this kind of legal work.

Living Trust

With a “living trust” (aka family trust or revocable trust) you can be extremely detailed in how you intend to pass down wealth to heirs. Have a child that isn’t responsible enough to receive a lump sum? No problem. You can set limits of how much and when they can receive their inheritance. Not only that, but a trust can completely avoid the cost and time of the court system, bypassing the probate process. From my experience working with estate planning attorneys, living trusts have a much greater up-front cost to create, but they have the potential to save your heirs a fortune in probate costs.

Without a trust or will, you’ll want to be sure to name beneficiaries and utilize designations such as “Transfer on Death” (TOD) accounts. There are also other tools that can be used to help pass down wealth effectively, such as irrevocable trusts, but those are much more advanced (and risky), so I’ll leave this for another article.

Passing Down Values

Passing down your values to your children is more important than passing down your financial resources. Developing in them a rich character of integrity, honesty, and faith will have a greater impact on their lives than leaving them $1 million. In fact, leaving too much money to someone can often ruin them, rather than help them. So, how do we pass down our values to others?

  1. The best way to pass down your values is to live them out boldly while you’re alive. The example you set now is irreplaceable.
  2. Look for teachable moments. As a parent, I’ve learned that these moments present themselves in everyday life. If the news is reporting on increased racial tensions, we have an opportunity to share how Jesus loved all and how his illustration of “The Good Samaritan” was meant to break down racial divides. When the offering plate goes by, we can talk about the importance of “giving, saving, and spending… in that order”. The opportunities and topics will change with your child’s age, but teachable moments work whether your kid is 2 or 62.
  3. Spent intentional time with your family. This can be hard in the busy world we live in, but there is no replacement for the quality time you invest into others. I’ve heard it said, “How do you spell ‘love’? T I M E!” With my young girls, I like to take them out for breakfast before school. I share a devotional with them as they eat and then we talk about how we can apply what we learned as we drive to school. Just like the previous idea, this works no matter what your child’s age.
  4. How can we create a lasting impact even after we’re gone? Create a legacy document. Most of us can visualize a family that is gathered around a large table as someone reads a loved-one’s last will and testament. “To my youngest son, I leave my trusty set of golf clubs. To my daughter, the engagement ring that was given to my grandmother…” You get the idea. A legacy document is a written letter that shares your story with your family after you’re gone. You can explain what shaped your life, how Jesus rescued you from sin, and how your financial habits secured your finances. This allows you to have one last moment of influence that can bless your family for generations. Keep this document with your regular trust or will so that your family can review it once you’re gone.

Summary:

We need to be intentional about leaving a lasting legacy for our heirs. I hope you will look for ways that you can leave both a financial inheritance as well as a rich legacy of values that will bless your family for generations.

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