Have you ever objected to the fact that the government takes so much money in taxes and that, seemingly, more of your life is controlled by forces over which you have little or no political control?
Have you made a will? It is a legal document that determines how your wealth is distributed and who will care for your children after you die. According to statistics, 70-80% of Americans die without having made any legal preparations for the orderly distribution of their accumulated wealth. By default, otherwise careful and well meaning people are delegating the government to distribute that wealth, and in some cases, take it directly and spend it as it pleases!
There can be no more timely subject than death and a consideration of the legal tragedy of dying intestate (without a will). The Bible says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Not one of us knows how long we will live.
Unless Christ comes in our lifetime, each of us will die, and one of two things will happen to our belongings. Either there will be an orderly transfer of our property to relatives, friends and organizations as decreed by our own determination or there will be an orderly transfer of these accumulations by the state totally apart from any verbalized wish we may think is binding. To inadvertently give the state control over the hard-earned wealth of a lifetime seems an incredible oversight. To the Christian, it could only be defined as a sin—an astonishing sin of omission.
The great Peter Marshall died intestate. His widow, Catherine, shared the heartbreak such oversight brought in her well-known book To Live Again. She outlined how her husband’s checking account was frozen and insurance policies were impounded in the safe deposit box. She was required to post expensive bonds and be legally declared executrix. No bill could be paid without court approval. Peter’s personal stamp collection and sermons were controversially appraised, adding further heartache and tension It took four months to finally decide on the sermons’ disposal.
Although she was their son’s mother, Catherine had to be legally declared the boy’s guardian and was required to make annual accounts as to how she was spending the boy’s share of his father’s estate. The laws of the District of Columbia were typical of many states where intestacy divides one third of the estate to the surviving spouse and two thirds to the children. In this case, the child was a minor, and Catherine Marshall could spend this for her son only with court approval. In her book, she somberly concluded, “When I discovered the amazing amount of red tape involved even with such a small estate, I almost ran to a lawyer to get help in making a will of my own.”
Many concerned and well-meaning people are entertaining woes as bad or worse by doing nothing about making a will. Although some people may have verbally expressed their desires as to the distribution of their estate and the care of their children, there is no legal guarantee that this will be followed.
Millions of dollars goes through our probate courts each week from people who have died without wills. State-appointed judges distribute individuals’ hard-earned money, often with no regard for the spoken or implied desires of the deceased. Even what are considered by some to be small estates can end up costing thousands of dollars to settle. (Note: Probate laws vary from state to state.)
Further, much of your estate will be eaten up in administrative expenses, and, by the time whatever is left after unnecessary legal fees are disbursed, the amount may have dwindled to nearly nothing. In the event that a court can’t find heirs for your estate, anything you have left behind will revert to the state. Every year, millions of dollars that could have gone to relatives or friends or even Christian ministries go unnecessarily to the government to spend as politicians see fit.
Perhaps it is ignorance or oversight, but no Christian can stand unjudged before God if he reads this and, by default, appoints the state to disperse his goods and determine how his children will be raised. Yes—wills also have to do with oversight of children, how funds are spent in their upbringing and many other minor but complicated things.
If you have children and die without a will, even more complications arise. Your spouse will not have full control of your money to raise and educate your children. He or she may have to report to a court as to how the money is being spent and how the children are being raised.
If both you and your spouse die together and neither has a will, the state would determine who would raise the children and, by implication, how. It would appoint a guardian and, according to your state’s laws, would tie up money until the children come of age. If you had specified a guardian but not declared how your money was to be spent in raising and educating the children, that guardian could be financially burdened beyond endurance, putting up bond and then reporting to a court periodically.
Some time ago, a friend died intestate. The laws of his state allowed officials to appraise all property—every belonging—and then take 25%. Thus, his widow and children unwillingly had to surrender one quarter of their loved one’s estate to the government. This could have been avoided by a simple will!
The subject of wills is not merely a secular issue; it is a Scriptural one as well. Some of the most exacting and even excoriating words in the Bible are reserved for this matter of wills and those who fail their heirs.
In Numbers 27, God outlined specific guidelines for the distribution of wealth. “...You shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them…If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it. And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Numbers 27:7-11)
God decreed that even if a man’s property was lost in debt, it reverted back in the year of jubilee every 50 years as in Leviticus 25. Estates were kept in the family by a man marrying his brother’s widow and raising the children as in the book of Ruth.
The violation of specific inheritance regulations drew strong condemnation. Isaiah 5:8 seems to have been a woe upon the land barons who ignored the rules of inheritance and crowded the poor off. “Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field until there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!” In II Kings 20:1, Isaiah told Hezekiah, who was at death’s door, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.”
In the New Testament, Paul wrote caustically about the careless provider. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Timothy 5:8)
In the larger sense, making a proper will is following directly in the footsteps of Christ. We have two parts to the Bible: the Old Testament and the New Testament. These titles bespeak the wills of God, and the New Testament (or covenant) is simply a rescinding of the Old. Many people are living under the Old Covenant, not seeing that a brand new will has been drawn up.
God keeps His will up to date. Hebrews 8 and 9 declare that these covenants have been sealed with blood. When God gave the law at Mount Sinai, there was the shedding of blood, which was sprinkled on the law and the people. When Jesus Christ gave His precious blood on the cross, a New Covenant, or Testament, came into being.
At the last supper, Christ, according to Paul in I Cor. 11:25, said, “This cup is the new covenant (or testament) in My blood...” In shedding His blood, Christ wrote a will leaving everything to those who trust Him as personal Savior. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) In the same chapter, we read, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16, 17)
Consider again Christ's will for us. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am….” (John 17:24) It is the will of God that those who have been joined to Him through the blood of the New Covenant be with Christ in Heaven. God was very careful in drawing up this will and having Christ execute it by His sacrificial death on the cross. By receiving Christ in faith, we become heirs of all that God has—eternal life, Heaven, His eternal riches.
Remember, “…heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” God wrote this stupendous will, and you are full heir if you are born again—bought by His precious blood. If you have never made that decision, do it now! Receive Christ into your life and you are in the will of God—for everything that God is and has.
Since God is meticulous about His will, shouldn’t you be about yours? Contact a lawyer and get a strong Christian will written—a will that mentions your faith in Christ. That document will be read when you are gone. It is a way to testify that death has not destroyed you but delivered you to your own inheritance “incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in Heaven.” (I Peter 1:4) Provide for those you love. Determine who will get what for the glory of God. And don’t forget to remember the Lord’s work in that will. Writing a will is “Doing your giving while you’re living so you’re knowing where it’s going.”
Scripture references are from the King James Version of the Bible.