Dividing up your estate and thinking in shares
How you divide up your estate is of course up to you. You will want to think about it carefully and may want to discuss it with your loved ones and with any professional advisers you feel appropriate. Your wishes may change over the years so you should review your Will regularly.
When deciding how to divide up your estate, you might like to consider thinking in ‘shares’ rather than specific cash amounts. This has a number of benefits:
- It can help you to provide for your family and friends first and share what is left over between your church and other charities that you care about;
- It reflects the Church’s teaching on proportionate giving. Remember 1 Corinthians 16: ‘…each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…’ This clearly tells us that our giving should be in proportion to what we earn. Whether you have a lot or a little, it is the share you give that matters, not the cash amount; see the Jesus’ response to the widow’s mite (Luke 21, Mark 12) and also 2 Corinthians 8: ‘For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.’
- Many Christians give generously and proportionately from their income each week or month. Why not give generously and proportionately from your assets (estate) too, after providing for your loved ones and dependents? God gave us everything we own, not just our income, so our stewardship beliefs and practices should apply to everything we own, not just to our income.
- Of course it is up to you, prayerfully and in discussion with your family and any other advisers you feel relevant, to decide how to divide up your estate and what gifts you choose to leave. The New Testament is not prescriptive on the amount Christians should give, only that we should give generously, freely and cheerfully, and in accordance with out means. ‘Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9); ‘Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means’ (2 Corinthians 8).
- Leaving a gift to your church is way to thank God for all the blessings you have received in your lifetime. ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8).’ We are all rich in the gift and grace of Christ, and some Christians see including a gift in their Will as a final way to give thanks in response.
There are practical as well as theological reasons for dividing your estate into shares too:
- It means that the value of your gifts to your family, friends, church and charities won’t be eroded by inflation over time;
- If you leave gifts expressed as a percentage or share of your estate instead of as lump-sum cash amounts, you won’t have to worry about re-writing your Will if circumstances change and you have more or less to leave than when you wrote your Will;
- It can be more tax-efficient to leave gifts in your Will as percentages of your estate rather than as cash sums. The 2011 budget announced that if you leave 10% or more of your estate to charity (which includes your church), any inheritance tax due on the rest of your estate will be charged at a lower rate.