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Your Family Letter - Memorial Services

A family letter is a key part of a good estate plan. It is much more personal than many of your estate documents. A family letter allows you to share your heart and show appreciation and gratitude to family members. During a time when family members are grieving, it also helps them to complete many practical steps to protect your property.

The family letter may have up to ten different sections. Each section will cover an important but separate topic.

Estate Data
Your estate organizer usually has four parts. It will explain the family names and key information, identify your attorney, CPA and other financial and health advisors, cover all of your assets and financial information and outline your estate planning choices.

The estate organizer may be printed or you may use an online version. Your family letter should explain where the information is located. If you are using an online estate planner, it's important to know your account name and password so the information will be available.

Important Documents
Your important documents will generally be safeguarded in three different ways. First, many individuals have a safe deposit box. The safe deposit box typically holds birth certificates, death certificates, degrees and other legal agreements, marriage or divorce documents, military discharge records, property deeds, a personal property inventory, stock and bond certificates and vehicle titles.

Second, you may have a fireproof box at home. This box will frequently include your insurance policies, your living will, medical power of attorney or advance directive, trust documents and your will.

Third, there are some items that should be left with your attorney, friend, agent or another trusted person. These are items that may be needed while you are still living or will be necessary very soon after you pass away. These documents (or copies of documents) could include your financial power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for healthcare or advance directive, your living will, trusts and your will.

Accounts and Passwords
Because an increasing number of records and information are retained online in personal accounts, you will want to be certain that your personal letter lists all accounts. You may decide to include passwords with the personal letter. Alternatively, if you are entrusting all of this information to a specific person or other location, that should be identified.

With the rapid movement to online banking, online mutual funds and securities accounts, donor advised fund accounts, health savings accounts and your email accounts, you may have six to 10 accounts with various passwords. It will be important to have all of this information recorded.

Your Family History
While your estate organizer will include basic information about you and your family members, there is an excellent opportunity in your family letter to discuss your family history. This can include a few short paragraphs that give the names and background of your parents. List all of their children or other key relatives in your family. Your history may discuss marriages, divorces and any blended family relationships. Finally, the family history will show the date of death for persons who have passed away.

Family history can include discussions of your activities, interests and career. It enables all of your extended family to have a good picture of your entire life.

Care for Children, Grandchildren or Pets
If you are responsible for any children, grandchildren or pets, this is an opportunity for you to explain your plan for their care. While your estate planning documents will normally appoint guardians for your children or grandchildren who are under your care, it still may be beneficial for the guardian to receive recommendations from you on their education and other areas of development that you understand very well. If someone is to care for pets, you may have recommendations on the way in which that is done.


Memberships
You may have memberships in a number of organizations. Some memberships, such as those in a golf course or in a club that purchases various types of sporting event tickets, are transferable to heirs. It would be helpful to your family for you to list any memberships that you have so they can handle them properly.

Care of Your Body
When you pass away, your body may be in the custody of a medical center or nursing home. If you have previously decided to make any organ donations, it is helpful to explain that decision in your family letter. The requirements for making organ donations are typically covered under state law. In many cases, decisions on organ donations are made when you sign your living will or advance medical directive.

Funeral or Memorial Services
The cost of many funerals now exceeds $10,000. If you would like to assist family members in the decisions surrounding your funeral or memorial service, the family letter is an excellent way to do so.

First, your family will need to decide whether to have a burial in a cemetery with a casket or to use cremation services and an urn. You may have personal or religious reasons for preferring one or the other.

With a casket and burial in a cemetery, your family will generally make use of a funeral home. Because there now is significant competition in the industry, funeral homes are starting to offer advance prices and package services. If you desire a specific range of services, type of casket or prefer not to be embalmed, those directions are helpful to your family.

There are funeral consumers' alliances in many locations. Your family may find assistance and guidance on www.funerals.org. This guidance may help them make good decisions during a very difficult time in the midst of grief over your loss.

If you are a veteran, your family may want to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. You may qualify for a gravesite at no cost in one of the 130 national cemeteries for veterans and their spouses.

Obituary
In your funeral or memorial service, there will be eulogies. It is also customary to have a printed description of your lifetime. This will frequently include your basic history, awards, achievements, military service and lifetime employment. If you have specific requests for information to be included in the obituary, it is helpful to your family to give them guidance. You may have certain principles or values that are important to you that you would like to share through the obituary. This is an opportunity for you to communicate your values to the public.

Final Words and Blessings for Family
Your final words of wisdom and blessing for family members will be of great comfort as they grieve for your loss. It is an appropriate and fitting way to conclude your family letter.

Your family letter may conclude with a word of blessing. It is a tradition in many cultures for the elders to provide a blessing for the next generation. This is frequently done when the elder is still living, but certainly your family letter provides a similar way to bless your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and other family members.

Personal Planner: IRA's

IRAs - Regular and Roth

 
While Social Security will provide approximately 40% of the average person's retirement income, an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is an essential addition for a successful retirement. Your IRA has two main benefits—contributions to a regular IRA are from pre-tax income and there is tax-free growth. There is another version of an IRA called a Roth IRA that is funded with after-tax income.

Linda is in her middle working years and anticipates receiving Social Security when she retires. But she has several questions about whether she should also start funding an IRA.

  • How should I fund my IRA?
  • Is it a good idea to do an IRA rollover?
  • At what age should I start taking IRA distributions?
  • Should I take the minimum required distribution or a larger amount?

Funding the IRA


If you are not actively participating in another type of qualified retirement plan and are within an adjusted gross income limit, you may qualify to transfer a substantial sum each year into an IRA. The IRA contribution amount is $5,500 for 2014. If you are over age 50, you may also make an additional $1,000 "catch-up" contribution. The maximum IRA contribution amounts are indexed for inflation in increments of $500. In future years, the contribution amount will increase.

Because Linda is over age 50, she is able to contribute $5,500 and her catch-up amount of $1,000, for a total of $6,500 to her IRA for 2014.

Linda considers the options to create a regular IRA or a Roth IRA. Because she wants to receive the income tax deduction, she transfers the funds into a regular IRA and deducts the $6,500 on her federal tax returns.

IRA Rollovers


The majority of larger IRAs are funded through rollovers from retirement plans through your employer. If you have a qualified plan through your employment, upon separation from service or reaching a specific age, such as 70, you will usually have an option to rollover to a self-directed IRA.

Normally, your qualified plan through a business has been funded with pretax income. The IRA account also benefits from tax free growth. Therefore, the rollover will be from the other qualified plan into a regular IRA. Your IRA will continue to grow tax free, but future distributions to you will be taxable.

IRAs may be rolled over to a new custodian. The preferred method is to have a custodian-to-custodian transfer. If the funds are transferred directly from one IRA custodian to the new custodian, there is no tax.

While it is permissible for your custodian to transfer funds to you and then for you to make the rollover, your IRA custodian will withhold 20%. Because of the 20% withholding requirement, virtually all IRA rollovers are completed with the custodian-to-custodian method.

An IRA to Roth IRA rollover may also be permissible for you. Generally speaking, people with any adjusted gross income are permitted to transfer a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. The value of the IRA will be included in your taxable income, so you may owe a substantial income tax for the conversion.

The primary benefit of the conversion to the Roth is that a Roth IRA does not have a mandatory distribution requirement at age 70½. The funds may be permitted to grow tax free and, at the discretion of the owner, may be withdrawn tax free during retirement years. If the owner of a Roth IRA does not make withdrawals, then the Roth may be transferred to children, who may make tax free withdrawals over their life expectancy.

IRA Distributions


For a regular IRA, there are specific rules on both contributions and withdrawals. Withdrawals for distributions are generally not taken before age 59½. With limited exceptions—such as uniform distributions over a lifetime, disability, separation from employment after age 55, or other exceptions—there is a 10% excise tax in addition to the regular ordinary income tax on withdrawals before age 59½. Therefore, very few individuals take early withdrawals before age 59½.

Between ages 59½ and 70½, there is an optional period for withdrawals. The withdrawals are not required, but you may take withdrawal of any amount. Of course, for a regular IRA the amount withdrawn is taxable to you and no longer grows tax free in the fund. Therefore, you may not want to take withdrawals unless you actually need the funds for living expenses.

After you reach age 70½, there are required minimum distributions (RMDs). The distributions start at approximately 3.8% at age 71 but increase with age each year. The distribution is calculated using your balance on December 31 multiplied by the appropriate percentage, and must be taken by the end of the next year. If you fail to take your distribution, there is a 50% penalty, so an error or an intentional disregard of the RMD rules is quite rare.

 

Caring for Minor Children

"Who would take our children? I am not sure anyone would be willing to take them," remarked Shelly to her attorney, Jim. "It's not that they aren't good children. They are all fine, but there are 11 of them! If something happens to Pat and me, who will take them?"


Personal Guardian for Minor Children


One very important decision for you to make when creating a plan is to decide who would be the guardian of your minor children. When you write your first will, it is very possible that you still have minor children at home. While you may not have 11 children and face the challenge that confronted Shelly and Pat, this is still a very crucial and important decision.

Your guardian will raise the children, teach them values, select the schools they attend and perform the functions of a parent. If you do not have a guardian selected in a will, a court may select a person. That person may not share your cultural background, your religion, your general world view, or any other aspects of the character that you think important for the person who raises your children. By selecting a guardian and an alternate in your will, you have a much better prospect of finding someone that you think is the right person to raise your children.

Two Parents


If there are two parents, normally the survivor will be selected as the guardian of the children. But if both were to pass away, then it would be necessary to select a guardian.

Even if you select a guardian, there could still be an objection or contest by other family members. The probate judge usually will approve your selection unless there is strong evidence that indicates the person is not qualified. For example, evidence of alcoholism, criminal background or a history of child abuse could lead the judge to select another person. However, in nearly all cases the person that you select is chosen because he or she is the best possible individual to raise your children.

Single Parent


There are several reasons why a person may be a single parent in our society. A single parent may never have been married, there could have been a divorce, or the spouse could have passed away. In all three cases, it is especially important for single parents to have carefully selected a guardian.

Blended Family


If you have divorced and remarried, it may be your desire to have your new spouse as the guardian for children from your first marriage.

Normally, children are placed with their biological parent. However, if you can show good reasons why it is in "the best interest of the child" for your new spouse to be guardian, the court may permit him or her to raise your children. It is desirable for you to write a letter that is retained with your will to explain your reasons why the biological parent is not a good choice and how your current spouse would be the best person to raise your children.

Property for Your Children


If you have a high level of trust in the person selected to be guardian, it is possible to transfer property outright to him or her. However, if you choose to entrust a guardian with your property, you need to recognize that the guardian will have complete control and may choose to use the property for other purposes. This may be an acceptable solution if you have moderate resources, but if your property is substantial, a trust may be a better choice.

Trust for Children


With a moderate to substantial amount of property, it is quite common to create a trust. One person is selected as trustee to manage the property. He or she then transfers the income and, if required, principal to the guardian. The combination of one person managing the property and the guardian raising the children provides checks and balances that achieve the best result for the child.

 

Trusts for Creative Spenders

TRUSTS FOR CREATIVE SPENDERS

Trusts can be quite useful for protecting children. However, for some children, the trust serves an additional function: It protects the principal from being rapidly spent by a child. These trusts have a specific name—they are called "spendthrift" trusts.

Marla was visiting with her attorney Elizabeth shortly after her husband Harry passed away. She shared her concern for her youngest child, Joe.

Marla: "Harry and I were very fortunate to have four great children. I love each one of them very much. However, when it comes time to making decisions about inheritance, I have a big problem. Our older children Sam and Linda are quite good with financial matters. The third child Lynn is average, but our youngest son Joe is very carefree. If Joe has money, it is gone in a flash. What can I do?"

Elizabeth: "This is a fairly common situation. Many parents would like to treat their children equally, but some children are very good managers and one or two are not. In your case, we hope that Joe eventually learns to become more responsible. But for the present plan, it makes good sense to provide Joe with spendthrift trust provisions."


The Spendthrift Trust Concept


A spendthrift trust allows a parent to protect a certain amount of inheritance. If you have a circumstance like Marla, it may be appropriate to transfer inheritance outright to some of your children and the same amount of property into a spendthrift trust for the "creative spender" child.

A spendthrift trust will need to be managed by a trustee who can make good decisions. For a larger trust, this could be a bank or trust company. In many circumstances a private trustee is selected, such as one of the family financial advisors or even one of the other children.

The trustee will have the usual power to invest and manage the trust assets. The first important provision for the trustee is his or her power over income. The spendthrift trust normally includes seven different provisions that apply to the income:

  1. Income may be paid to the child.
  2. Income may be paid to persons or organizations providing benefits to the child. For a spendthrift child, it frequently is necessary to make the payment directly to the provider or the child would simply spend the money.
  3. The child may not demand the payment of the income. A spendthrift child may desire to purchase some item and would simply demand income if that right existed.
  4. The child may not pledge or borrow against the trust income or principal. Once again, if the child could pledge or borrow against the trust, they could quickly deplete the trust through those loans.
  5. The trustee usually has complete discretion over distributions. A parent may indicate the general purposes of the trust, but a trustee is better able to protect the principal and the beneficiary if he or she has complete discretion.
  6. Trust principal may be used by the trustee for the education, healthcare needs or support of the child.
  7. Some trusts create incentive plans. In these trusts, the trustee is authorized to distribute income that will match the income of the child.

Spendthrift Trusts and Distributions of Principal


With a spendthrift trust, distribution of principal is also subject to specific requirements. While the parents are given a reasonable level of flexibility in setting forth the distribution rules, there are several general guidelines that are usually followed.

  1. The trustee will have discretion to distribute principal over the duration of the trust. The trustee normally has quite broad powers to make distribution of principal. In order to protect the child, this is quite important. However, the child may have a very good investment or business opportunity for which he or she needs principal. If the trustee is convinced that the child can use principal responsibly, then the distribution may be made.
  2. The trust principal is normally held in trust for life or until a fairly senior age, such as 50 or older. If the child eventually acquires the capability of managing assets properly, the trustee can use the discretionary power to move the assets to the child. However, because the parent is concerned that the child may never acquire a high level of management expertise, the trust often lasts for life.
  3. The child has no right to demand principal. The principal is controlled by the trustee for the protection of the child.
  4. The child may not pledge the trust principal or borrow against the principal. Because the trustee is not obligated to make payment on any loans by the child, the banks or other lenders will not make loans using the trust income or principal as collateral.

A Solution for "Creative Bill"


Sam and Sandy have an estate of $1 million. Their children—Alice, Jim and Bill—are all in their mid-thirties. Alice is age 38 and Jim is age 37. They are both solid and responsible. However, Bill is 33 and is quite a creative person. Sandy says that "If Bill had a million dollars, he would use it creatively in three weeks."

Because of their desire to treat everyone equally and to protect Bill from his creative spending habits, Sam and Sandy created a fairly typical plan for their circumstances. If one spouse passes away, the $1 million estate will be transferred to the survivor. When the survivor passes away, their favorite charity will receive a bequest of 10% of the estate. The other 90% will be divided. Alice and Jim will receive their shares outright. However, the third share will be transferred into a spendthrift trust with family advisor Steven as trustee. There will also be a successor trustee—First Bank from their local community.

As trustee of the spendthrift trust, Steven will receive approximately $300,000. He will invest this amount in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds. Steven will have discretion to distribute income and/or principal to Bill. When Bill reaches age 55, he will then receive the full inheritance. Sam and Sandy believe that by that time he will be responsible in managing the property.

This article and others like it can be sent to you directly through our eNewsletter.  Sign up today!

 

Simple Changes for Making a Home More Accessible

Simple Changes for Making a Home More Accessible

What tips or products can you recommend to help make a home safer and more convenient for those who are aging or have a disability? My husband and I don't have the money for any big renovations, but we want to do what we can to make our home safe and accessible.

There are many simple ways to modify your home so that it is safer and more livable. Here are several inexpensive or free modifications to consider.

Fall-Proofing


Falls are a leading cause of home injury. So, a good place to begin is to pick up any possible clutter that might cause you to trip such as newspapers, books, shoes, clothes, electrical or phone cords and the like. If you have throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them to the floor. If you have stairs, consider putting handrails on both sides.

Good lighting is also very important. First, add lamps or light fixtures where needed and install brighter full-spectrum bulbs in existing fixtures to improve visibility. Second, purchase some inexpensive plug-in nightlights for the bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Third, consider installing motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway.

Your bathroom may also require slight modifications. It may be a good idea to purchase non-skid bath rugs for the bathroom floors, put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor of the tub/shower and have a carpenter install grab bars inside the tub/shower.

In the kitchen, organize your cabinets so that the things you use most often are easy to reach without using a step stool.

Simple Modifications


Individuals in your home may have various physical limitations which can make your home more difficult to use. In order to help weak or arthritic hands you might replace round doorknobs with lever handles or purchase inexpensive doorknob lever adapters. The same goes for twist-knob kitchen or bathroom faucets. You can easily replace them with lever faucet handles that you can purchase for a few dollars in most hardware stores or you can have a single-lever handle faucet installed.

In the kitchen, you can make your cabinets and pantry easier to access by installing pull-out shelves or lazy susans. D-shaped pull-handles for the cabinets and drawers are also recommended because they're more comfortable to grasp than knobs.

In the bathroom, consider installing a hand-held adjustable showerhead and purchasing a shower or bathtub seat. Then you can shower from a safe seated position if need be. For easier toilet access, purchase a toilet seat riser for a few dollars. This can make sitting down and standing up a little easier.

If someone in your home uses a walker or wheelchair, you can modify your home by installing ramps over entrance steps and mini-ramps to go over high entrance thresholds. You can widen the doorways an additional two inches by installing "swing clear" offset door hinges.

More Tips


For many more tips, visit The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence website at homemods.org. Also, see "The AARP Home Fit Guide" (publication D18959) which offers dozens of modification suggestions to make your home safe and livable. You can access the guide online at homefitguide.org or if you're an AARP member call 888-687-2277 and ask them to send you a free copy in the mail.

If you want personalized help, get an in-home assessment with an occupational therapist ("OT"). The OT will evaluate your home, make modification recommendations and refer you to products and services to help you make improvements. Medicare will pay for a home assessment by an OT if prescribed by a doctor. Ask your physician for a referral.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book. The articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

A Scholarship Blessing

In just a few days we will watch our daughter pull out of the driveway to attend another semester at college.  She is entering her junior year, and she is working on her elementary education degree.  We are so proud of her!  We are also grateful for some of the financial assistance she has been able to receive through scholarships.  As a parent providing financial assistance, the importance of these scholarship funds is a tremendous blessing. 

The scholarships that my daughter has been fortunate enough to receive, remind me of my first personal experience of receiving a scholarship over 25 years ago.  Even though I received several scholarships, one of those stands out above the rest. 

There was a close friend of mine, her name was Tracy, who was tragically killed in a car accident during my senior year in high school.  She was a beautiful, talented and intelligent young lady.  We went to the same church, we were both lifeguards at our municipal pool, and we had many good times growing up together. 

Tracy had a brother and a sister who were equally good friends of mine.  Her parents were, and are, examples in their community.  With great wisdom, this family set up a scholarship in Tracy’s memory.  With great pride, I can say that I became the first recipient of this fund established in her honor.

Far beyond any financial impact, I am frequently reminded of the reflection of Tracy’s life in my education and my professional development.  Because of the generosity exhibited to establish this scholarship fund, I am now a beneficiary of a remarkable act of kindness.  And each time I see a scholarship fund that is established in memory of another person, I am reminded of a family in my hometown that did a similar thing for me, and countless other recipients.  Despite the tragedy experienced in their personal lives, the devotion this family committed to establish this fund, has now spread joy and encouragement to many others.  What a testimony!

Maybe you have a similar experience like mine.  If not, maybe you can at least say that you too have been a recipient of scholarship funds in your past.  If so, I believe it would be worth learning more about the family, person, or group that established a similar fund that helped you as you sought to further your education.  You might just be amazed and inspired by the story you uncover.

Whatever your background, consider what you could do to give in a similar fashion.  Since most scholarship funds are managed in perpetuity, maybe you would like to give a tax deductible donation to one of the scholarship funds that you received money from years ago.  Better yet, establish a new scholarship fund in your own name, or in the name of a loved one. 

As President of the Missouri Baptist Foundation, I have the privilege to meet several college students who receive distributions from our scholarship funds.  Sometimes I have the honor to share the stories behind how those funds were established.  One of my favorite job responsibilities is to speak to the history of the funds we manage for the benefit of others.  I can hardly explain what a tremendous sense of joy this gives me each time this happens.

All scholarship funds have a story.  Some get told, and unfortunately some do not.  Now that you have read part of my testimony, maybe God is instructing you, to give “a scholarship blessing”!

 

Chris Calmer, CPA, CFA

President & Treasurer

 

Ministry Highlight: Camp ZHEMCHUZHINKA

The main goal of project is - spiritual and physical recovery of children. Because of the growth of variety forms of influences on children and their dependence of these influences, the number of children with addictions, mental disabilities or children without attention or education more and more increase. The main goal of the project is the spiritual education of children as well as the aid to the poor or large families in the children’s education or recovery.  Learn more about their summer.

Camp Zhemchuzhinka

MBF Scholarship Honors Retiring HLGU President Woodrow Burt

In December, 2011 the Missouri Baptist Foundation Trustees approved a grant of id=mce_marker200 to award a scholarship for a Hannibal-LaGrange University student majoring in business. The scholarship honors retiring HLGU President Woodrow Burt. Dr. Burt stepped down as President in May after 33 years of service to HLGU, culminating with an18 year tenure as president. The scholarship was presented at the HLGU Award Chapel on April 25 by MBF President Chris Calmer to Matthew Leach of Germantown Hills, IL. The scholarship grant comes from distributions of a fund set up by a Missouri Baptist lay person “to serve worthy individuals for the purpose of attending Baptist colleges, universities and seminaries.”

“MBF is pleased to continue to honor the legacy of a faithful Christian steward to support Christian higher education and to express our admiration and respect for the service that Dr. Burt has given to HLGU,” says MBF President Chris Calmer.

MBF can assist in planning gifts that uniquely benefit individuals, family members, and Christian ministries. Learn more about how MBF can help people with estate planning. Or contact MBF at 800-776-0747 to speak with someone.

 

Getting to Know Matthew Leach

MBF: Tell us a little bit about yourself

Matthew: My name is Matthew Leach. I live in Germantown Hills, Illinois. I have three siblings: one older sister and brother, and a younger brother. My parents raised all of us in church from the time we were infants. Our current church, where we have attended for eighteen years, is the Bay View Baptist Church in Washington, Illinois. I have been encouraged from a young age to be active in athletics. I started playing basketball, baseball, and soccer at the age of five. In my early teens I gave up soccer and baseball to pursue my love for basketball, which I continue to play at Hannibal-LaGrange to this day. Also, I play golf to relax and get away from the fast-paced sports. While playing sports is always fun, my most favorite hobby is riding dirt bikes. Once I got my first dirt bike at the age of six, I have been an enthusiast ever since.

MBF: Why did you choose HLGU?

Matthew: The most important factor in attracting me to Hannibal-LaGrange was the atmosphere. Even on my first visit it was apparent that there was something different about HLGU. Of course, I expected the faculty to be excited and have nothing but praise for their school, but it was the student body and their attitudes that made the lasting impression. I had visited half a dozen schools or more by the time I came to see HLGU, and none of those schools had as an impressive group of kids attending them.

MBF: What is your major?

Matthew: I am a Business Administration major with an emphasis in Marketing. Also, I will be completing the requirements for a Management emphasis as well.

MBF: What do you hope to accomplish with your degree after college?

Marketing is my passion. I would love to find a career in that field, especially as a marketing manager. Currently I am talking with Caterpillar and Menards about possibilities after graduation. Being from the Peoria, IL, area (the headquarters of Caterpillar), it has been a lifelong dream to work in their corporate office in any capacity. While I am still unsure about what is to come after graduation next May, I am confident that God will place me right where He wants me.

Help a Ministry

I recently read a message about a gospel ministry.  It needs money.  This organization is in my community. I know it well. You may know of financially strapped ministry organizations in your community, too.

The organization I read about is a residential discipleship ministry that helps people get a fresh start.  Those it serves are alcoholic, drug addicted, unable to find or hold a job, or homeless.  Some are young - still teenagers.  Recently, a woman living there gave birth.  I met a seventy-year-old man who was going through the program.  Some residents make this place their home.  A young woman told me, “I’ve never been loved like I am here.”

The leaders tell about Jesus, provide living space, food and clothing.  They require residents to work and support the organization.  Leaders teach Bible study, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines.  Attendance is mandatory.

I like what this ministry does. It offers no-nonsense, heavy-duty, industrial-strength training.  (My life could stand some additional discipline and I might benefit from living there.)

This fine ministry is short of money.  Much of their support comes from the work of the residents.  There is not much work in the winter.  Yard work will be available in a couple of months.  Until then, it will hard to make ends meet.

A group that donates deer to the ministry each Fall, couldn’t do so this year.  So, there’s no meat in the freezer.  Building rent is due.  Electricity, gas, and water bills are on hand to pay.  Vehicles need repair.

I went to see a movie recently, which means I have some extra cash.  The movie was fun and I needed some time off.  But, I’m going to do something for this ministry.  The men and women who live there have basic needs.  They are more important than my fun, and giving to them will be satisfying, too.

I’m not going to tell you the name of this organization, nor where it is located.  It’s a real place with real needs.  However, there is a Christian organization near you that needs help.  If you can’t find one, read this paper, the Word and Way, your local newspaper, or ask your pastor or other Christian leader for a suggestion. They may suggest a Christian ministry that needs your gift.

I’ve told you that I’m going to give to the organization in my community.  Even though I’ve told you that I am going to make a gift, I should also tell you that I’m going to give it in a quiet, private way. This good ministry doesn’t need to know who I am, though they may need what I can give.

So, can you give something?

Economics?

National and international financial situations are complex.  The only economics I understand are personal.  I understand my income and expenses.  My personal finances are also the only economics that I can control.  I influence my income and have much control over my expenses.

In a radio report heard recently, the reporter stated that unemployment in the U.S. continues to be high.  Retail stores are disappointed that Americans are not spending much money.  Folks are avoiding common items like new clothing and small kitchen appliances.  Families are remodeling their homes instead of buying new ones.

I’m being careful, too.  Each month, a bit of money goes into savings.  My wife and I aren’t eating out as much as we did previously.  We give to our church and other ministries.

My ultimate confidence does not depend on my salary or thrift.  Instead, I believe that the Lord will take care of us.  Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27

That doesn’t mean that we can lay back, relax, and do nothing.  The Apostle Paul said, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’” 2 Thessalonians 3:10

So, both are true.  We can do what we can.  And, we trust God to do what only He can do.  That may seem like a contradiction, but it’s more simple than listening to the explanations and predictions of economists.

What is going to happen next?  I don’t know.  But I’m going to work, give, serve, and trust God.  Not too complex, is it?

Article written by:
Brad Dixon
Western Missouri Regional Vice President
Missouri Baptist Foundation

Estate Planning vs. "Estate Tax" Planning

“No estate tax for me! Great! I don’t need to worry any more about estate planning.” This is the comment that I am hearing when I share with people that Congress acted to raise the estate transfer tax exemption to $5 million.  Less than 2% of Americans die leaving an estate valued at over $5 million. This does not, however, mean that the need for estate planning is eliminated.  Do not confuse “estate tax” planning with the much broader issue of estate planning. 

As Christian stewards of God’s material blessings held in our estate, we have responsibilities for more than managing taxes.  Meeting our stewardship goals still requires careful planning in many areas, especially estate planning.  Some of the issues to think about that are handled through wills, trusts, and other estate management tools include:
• Naming guardians for minor children.
• Managing the inheritance of children and grandchildren of all ages who have not developed good financial management skills.
• Creditor protection of inherited assets.
• Disability protection for yourself and a surviving spouse.
• Family inheritance planning in second spouse situations.
• Including your church, Christian ministries, and other charitable organizations.
• Income tax planning on retirement account distributions.

In reality, the newly passed estate tax law is probably a good reason to review your existing estate plan and see if it needs to be updated.  If you are part of the 98% or more of Americans that will not be subject to estate taxes, you may be in a position passing along even greater amounts to family and Christian ministries.  If anything, the need for wise stewardship in developing your estate plan has increased.  Just when you thought you could take something off of your to-do list, estate planning probably needs to go to the top of the list.  (P.S. Keep an eye on the estate tax laws.  The $5 million exemption is set to expire December 31, 2012.)   

Stephen Mathis, CFP
Interim President
Missouri Baptist Foundation

Leaving Your House in Order

Spring means cleaning and putting our house in order for the busy months ahead. Before the days of central air conditioning, housekeeping was quite a chore! I dreaded the work in those days, but I loved the resulting orderly and clean house!

I also dreaded the chores required to “leave our house in order” before going on vacation. “Why can’t we just jump in the car and head to our destination?” I reasoned as a youngster. As beds were made and cupboards cleaned, my mother taught us, “These things matter.” I always appreciated the result!

Now is a good time for Christians to spring clean to leave their financial houses in order. After all, we have a final destination, heaven, and we are to be responsible stewards while on Earth. The Bible teaches that “things” matter! As a steward, you can order everything by designating those who benefit from your estate, those you would leave in charge of settling your financial affairs, and ministries you wish to support through at least a tithe on your estate.

A good check list would include preparation of a last will and testament, a carefully structured trust, or both. Having a healthcare directive, power of attorney, and instructions for your personal representative might also be included.

The Missouri Baptist Foundation assists hundreds of families each year to prepare estate and charitable gifts. Let us help you be a responsible steward and leave your financial affairs and estate in order. What a wonderful feeling to leave home and know it is done!

55 and Counting...Have I Saved Enough?

This summer holds a milestone birthday for me — 55! As I roll down life’s highway with millions of other baby boomers, it occurs to me that I need to pull over for a brief “rest stop” to consider financial preparation for what lies ahead. Hopefully, it is not too late to make any necessary adjustments. What questions must I answer?

First, what will my income be at age 60, 65, 70, or whatever age I choose to retire? I need to pull out my Social Security projection – they send me one every year now. Next, I will check with my retirement plan administrator (mine happens to be Guidestone) and request projections. I will get with my IRA custodian for help to project an amount that may be available from that account. Regarding savings and investments (regardless of size), I will estimate earnings at a conservative 5%. Lastly, I will make my best guess about earnings I could receive from part-time projects and any real estate or business holdings. With this information, I should be able to make a reasonable estimate of income.

Second, what expenses might I expect? A rule of thumb some follow is 75-80% of current expenses. To be more specific to my situation, I will take time to list expenses by categories (food, travel, transportation, giving, medical, housing, utilities, etc.). I should probably add 10-20% to these projected expenses because I know I may have overlooked something or an emergency or inflation may happen.

Third, how do my projections for income and expenses compare? Income that exceeds expenses would be a mighty good start. But should expense projections exceed income expectations, I had better see what can be done to boost the savings before retirement. I may have to make some immediate lifestyle adjustments.

Fourth, am I confident in these “rest stop” projections? Hopefully, they have headed me in the right direction. However, I know I should seek professional retirement planning, financial planning, and tax advisors who can help me adjust my calculations to reflect tax and inflation effects over a 10-, 20-, 30-year or more retirement — God willing. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” I will ask God, my perfect counselor and guide, to lead me to capable Christian counselors.

Fifth, have I saved enough? After reviewing my situation, I’ll get the help I need to make certain. No matter your age, it is not too early or late to be a faithful manager of God’s resources. Properly planning to use His blessings to provide for family and minister to others is good stewardship. Won’t you join me in this endeavor? Don’t be surprised to discover that God is unbelievably good to us!

Stephen Mathis, CFP
MBF Executive Vice President
Missouri Baptist Foundation

 

Give Your Will a Check Up

As I speak with attorneys about estate planning there are two common issues in our conversations. First, only 25% of all people have a will or trust. Secondly, of those that complete a will or trust, very few keep them up-to-date. No matter how thoroughly it is prepared, your will or trust is a living document that needs attention on a regular basis after it is completed. Your life and circumstances change over time and your estate plans should reflect those changes. Some of the things that can bring change are as follows.


1) People Change. Your relationships with people named in your will may have changed over the years. New people enter lives through births, adoptions and marriages. Others included in your plan may not be active in your life due to death or divorce. Has anything changed in the lives of the people named in your will (heirs, representatives, guardians, trustees, or executors) due to death, mental incapacities, a handicap or serious injury, health problems or relationships?

2) Assets Change. Since the execution of your will: Has your estate experienced a substantial increase or decrease in value? Has there been a significant change in income or wealth of either the person making the will or a beneficiary? Has there been a change in business ventures either positive or negative? Have you added or dropped life insurance since your last review?

3) Places Change. Have you have moved out of the state in which you executed your will? You should consult an attorney in your new location to determine whether it is still valid. State laws regarding the execution of wills vary.

4) Laws Change. Tax laws are constantly changing both on the state and federal levels. Consult your attorney.

5) Time Changes All. If you haven’t reviewed your will in the last three years or more, it is time for a review. The best course of action is to return to your original will, review it and make certain that it’s been updated according to your changing needs. An even wiser practice is to do it annually. You should be aware of the age at which you are required to begin taking distributions from your IRA, 401(k), or other qualified plan. Generally, you can begin taking from your plan at 70.5 years old.

Wills are valuable tools that make possible a smooth transfer of your assets to heirs and charities upon your death. Your will should be reviewed and given regular check ups throughout life and certainly when any major changes have taken place.

Nick Davis
Regional Vice President – East
Missouri Baptist Foundation

Privacy Please: Look Into Donor Advised Funds

In the August 2009 “Give & Take” newsletter, Robert F. Sharpe, Jr., a nationally recognized adviser to non-profit organizations, identified reasons donors choose to make anonymous or private gifts. Reasons ranged from religious traditions and shyness to protecting against unwanted contacts from gift-seekers. Due to identity theft concerns, some seek to minimize publicity that could jeopardize family safety or financial security. In the Christian community, my experience has been that a very humble spirit is the frequent nature of faithful stewards. Decisions to share publicly about giving are prayerfully made in light of what will model stewardship in a way that encourages fellow believers and strengthens the work of the church.

A popular tool that accommodates various levels of privacy in giving is the Donor Advised Fund (DAF). These are available through community foundations, some financial service providers, and, in Missouri Baptist life, the Missouri Baptist Foundation. Planning and making gifts through a DAF at a “third-party” entity that is a qualified charitable organization also captures tax benefits to which the giver may be entitled. In addition, the use of a DAF can allow:


• The DAF manager to make distributions to ministries while keeping the donor’s identity anonymous. Expressions of appreciation from the benefiting ministry may be provided through the DAF manager to the anonymous giver.

• One large gift transaction to be divided among multiple causes (church, ministries, charities, etc.). Following the donor’s instruction to the DAF manager, notification of the donor’s identity may be withheld or released on a charity by charity basis.

• A gift to be completed in one year for tax purposes but distributed over several years.

• For gifting appreciated assets such as stocks or a mutual fund in ways that avoid capital gain taxes. The DAF manager converts the asset to cash for distribution to churches and ministries that may not be organized to properly receive and acknowledge non-cash gifts.

Concerns over privacy need not restrict the generosity God places in your heart. Using a Donor Advised Fund may even increase the economic stewardship of giving if you have a DAF with an organization that assists you in tax-wise planning of your gifts.

MISSOURI BAPTIST FOUNDATION

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