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Estate planning does God’s work after we’re gone

Webinar helps pastors answer this question: What would you be excited about continuing after your lifetime?

by Nancy Crowe for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

A webinar offered by the Board of Pensions earlier this month focused on estate planning for ministers. (iStock photo)

JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — The “what” of estate planning can seem overwhelming to ministers, even those who regularly deal with death. Besides, serving God requires plenty of other earthly details.

That “what” is not only important but manageable, said the presenters of “Estate Planning for Ministers,” an August 11 Board of Pensions webinar targeted at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors.

Ministers first need to think about the “why,” presenters said.

The webinar was presented by Joe Tackett, Planning and Development Officer with the Presbyterian Foundation, and Karl Mattison, Vice President of Planned Giving Resources with the Presbyterian Foundation. It was moderated by Olanda Carr, the Foundation’s Senior Ministry Relations Officer serving the East Region.

Tackett and Mattison made clear that laws and procedures vary from state to state; circumstances (including clergy housing allowances) vary from person to person. Therefore, they advised individuals to consult their own attorneys and financial planners before making any decisions.

Don’t let the state decide

When you die, who gets what?

Joe Tackett

“Do not assume your state has it set up for the surviving spouse to receive everything automatically,” Tackett said. Blood relatives such as children, parents or siblings may also be entitled to a portion of the decedent’s estate. “That’s a key reason to have a will. What you want may not be what your state has in place for you.”

A will is often paired with power of attorney for health care and for finances. Other possibilities for estate planning include beneficiary designations (IRAs, life insurance and other similar accounts), different ways to title or own property (such as joint tenants with right of survivorship), and trusts.

Trusts, especially revocable living trusts, play a larger and larger role in financial and estate planning, Tackett said. Trusts may be more attractive to some because they offer unique advantages, such as protecting assets, avoiding probate, maintaining privacy and various other benefits.

Making the ‘what’ and ‘why’ cohere

What would you be excited about continuing after your lifetime?

Karl Mattison

Addressing such questions drew Mattison from banking into his current work, he said. “With rare exception, death is the biggest transfer of assets in one’s life. Legacy is the wrapper around that. It’s often a concept we never pick up because it’s overwhelming, but it needs to be done.”

Planned giving allows us to do God’s work when we are no longer here to do it ourselves, he said.

Though death is a difficult subject, making our intentions known to family and other recipients can bring comfort and clarity to all involved.

“Tell them what they mean to you,” he said. “The gifts we remember are the ones where we know the story.”

There’s no template to begin, Mattison said. “What part of your estate plan will change someone’s life?”

Three ways of planned giving (Mattison prefers “legacy giving”) are the most common: bequests through wills, giving all or part of one’s retirement plan, and donor advised funds.

Consider, then connect

Tackett encouraged attendees to think about what is important to them, and how that might be expressed in their estate planning, before talking with a professional.

But do talk with a professional — in person if at all possible, he said. “It’s so important to sit down across from an individual. As we’ve learned over the last year and a half, human connection is important.”

If you have no estate plans in place, start by finding an attorney through personal recommendations, he urged. “Sit down and get a feel for the person. Ask yourself: Are they listening to what’s important to me?”

Once documents are drawn up, Tackett encourages reviewing them about every five years. What births or deaths have occurred? Are you still attending the same church? Is there a new ministry you want to include in your giving?

Individuals should also be aware that estate taxes exist at federal and state levels, he added. Legislation can change how these taxes work and how much they take out.

What a legacy gift can do

Ministers can draw inspiration from what they could do with what they leave on Earth. Legacy gifts have helped establish virtual ministries, house the homeless and more, Mattison said.

“Each and every one of us on this call is touched by the legacy gifts of those who went before us,” he said. “It’s our turn.”

Nancy Crowe is a writer, editor and animal wellness practitioner based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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