Joseph Helm is a partner attorney with McLario, Helm, Bertling & Spiegel Law Offices specializing in stewardship finances and estate planning. He’s also village president of Menomonee Falls, WI. and an associate pastor at Brookside Baptist Church in Brookfield, WI.
Stewardship for the present is quite obvious to most Christians, but stewardship for the future is another. Joseph noted Matthew 6:19 as an example of the importance of this latter responsibility. He asked the following questions: How many believers understand what that means, have done sufficient Bible study to determine how to do that and what are the benefits?
Stewardship that looks to the future has two aspects: planning for matters while we’re still alive and also planning for matters after death. One of those related to the first category involves avoiding guardianship.
Avoiding guardianship deals with who’s going to manage your affairs and how they do that if you become incapacitated or die. You can do nothing and not plan at all. Under that scenario, everything falls to the government’s default program known as probate court. Probate court is a division of your local county court. This court handles the affairs of deceased or incompetent people and the affairs of surviving, underage minor children. The probate judge oversees someone collecting your assets, paying your bills, filing your taxes, determining who the heirs are and ultimately issuing a court order declaring how your assets are to be distributed to those survivors.
So if no pre-planning is done, someone in your sphere of life will need to petition the probate court and ask the judge to award them guardianship over you. Once granted, that person has legal authority to handle your affairs.
The other option is for you to obtain a healthcare power of attorney document for medical matters and a separate power of attorney document for financial matters. These two documents are crucial, even for married couples, so that you determine who handles these matters, and not the court system, should you become incapacitated.
The next point of discussion was a living will. A living will is not like a last will and testament, the latter determining who gets your estate or assets. Instead, a living will is a declaration to physicians that outlines your wishes regarding end of life medical decisions. This living will should not be confused with the healthcare power of attorney document. The living will declaration doesn’t authorize anyone to do anything. It’s just a statement of your wishes whereas the healthcare power of attorney document names the person you want to communicate with doctors and tell them what to do and what not to do.
Power of attorney documents die with you. In other words, they are only valid while you’re still alive and for the agent making decisions on your behalf. Upon death, the death documents take over as they supply instructions on what to do with your estate, assets, etc.
Other aspects of estate planning that were discussed included:
–A life estate
–A revokable living trust
–Charitable giving through your estate
–Planning with minor children in mind
–Numerous questions from Crosstalk listeners