Gifts in a Will Q&As

Available Q&As

Q: What’s the difference between my “power of attorney” and my “personal representative”?

A: “Power of attorney” refers to the legal documents that name the trusted “agents” who may act on your behalf while you are still living. Your “personal representative” (otherwise known as an “executor” of a will) is the person responsible for implementing your final wishes when you go to be with the Lord.

Your agent(s) appointed by power of attorney documents may perform a variety of duties, if you are physically or mentally unable to do so for yourself. For example:

  • Sign important documents,
  • Make timely financial decisions, and/or
  • Make critical decisions about your healthcare.

When you have passed into eternity, your personal representative will carry out your instructions, as outlined in your will. They must also:

  • Collect and maintain your property until your estate is settled,
  • Take care of final expenses (funded by your estate), and
  • Make court appearances on behalf of your estate.

Q: It’s been a while since I completed my power of attorney documents. Do they need an update?

A: Your power of attorney documents specify who can make critical decisions while you are still living, but are physically or mentally unable to do so for yourself.

There are several reasons why these critical documents may need revisions:

  • The people you named are no longer able or trusted to make your decisions.
  • You’ve moved across state lines.
  • State laws have changed.
  • Your family dynamics have evolved.
  • Your wishes regarding your care have changed.
  • Your property has changed in value or composition.

For example, in recent years, many states have updated their laws around “power of attorney” and “power of attorney for healthcare” forms. The specific names of these documents vary from state to state, and recent changes include new requirements, as well as additional provisions that can be included in your plans.

Bottom line, if it’s been a while since your power of attorney documents were prepared, it’s worth calling your lawyer to see if an update is needed.

Q: My children have varying degrees of financial need, and some are better at handling money than others. How do I create a will that’s helpful and fair?

A: Estate plans based on equal shares can lead to results that are not helpful, and in some cases, do more harm than good.

One child may be able to handle money responsibly. Another finds it irresistible to waste or give it all away. Your children may be far apart in age or at different life stages. Perhaps some of your kids require extra assistance for educational expenses, raising young families, health issues or other special needs. Some families face the added challenge of handing down a business or farm where the continued operation requires significant skill, expertise and capital.

Dividing an estate among children is a complex issue – and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why it’s important to discuss all of your planning options with a trusted advisor, who can help you find solutions that fit your circumstances and goals.

Q: We recently became grandparents for the first time! Do we need to update our will?

A: Congratulations! New life brings new opportunities for celebration within a family. It also has a way of shifting our priorities, passions, and financial situation.

As your circumstances change, your will or trust should also change.  In fact, there are a number of personal and professional milestones that warrant updating your plan:

  • Changes in the family, such as through birth, adoption, marriage or divorce
  • Increased or decreased involvement with a charity
  • Career transitions or retirement
  • Life-altering injury, chronic illness, or death of a loved one.

Your will may also need an update as a result of new state or federal tax laws.

If you’ve had significant changes in your life, or even if it’s just been a while since you last reviewed your plans, it’s probably time for an update.

Q: How can I share personal comments with my loved ones along with my will?

A:  A spiritual love letter, sometimes referred to as an “ethical will,” is a meaningful way to communicate your Christian values, life lessons, and blessings to your loved ones. It is an informal document separate from your legal will, but it should be kept in the same safe location, where your personal representative knows how to find and access it.

Most people include these three basic elements in their spiritual love letters:

1. Beliefs and Values. What are your core beliefs about God? How have your faith and convictions guided the way you’ve lived your life?

2. Life Lessons. What are the most important things you’ve learned from your mentors? What truths have you gleaned from life’s victories, challenges, and disappointments?

3. Messages of Hope. Which Scriptures have brought personal encouragement? What are your greatest hopes and prayers for your loved ones? What blessing do you want to offer them?

Q: I don’t have a big “estate.” Do I really need a will?

A:  In the absence of a will or trust, the destination and ultimate use of your belongings will be determined by your state’s government when you go to be with the Lord. Maybe the government will make all the same decisions you would have made – but then again, probably not.

When, however, you have a properly executed plan in place, you proactively ensure your God-given resources are used in a way that reflects your goals and values.

A legal will can also help you…

  • Minimize family disputes,
  • Protect your spouse and heirs from unnecessary taxes and legal fees,
  • Establish guardianship for minor children,
  • Provide for children or loved ones with special needs and
  • Give in a profound way to Westminster Seminary California and the other ministries close to your heart.

Through Westminster Seminary California’s partnership with Barnabas Foundation, you have access to a new resource through which you can complete your legal will – fast and 100% free!

Q: How much should I leave to charity in my will?

A: Your best answer depends on your circumstances, objectives, and values. However, many families consider one of three giving models.

1. Percentage or Tithe. Many individuals allocate a certain percentage of their will toward Westminster Seminary California and other Kingdom causes. Some designate 10 percent to reinforce the biblical concept of tithing to their families.

2. Child Named Charity. Some families choose to add a “child named Charity” to their wills. By this method, for example, if a couple had four children, each of the children would receive 1/5 of their belongings, and the remaining 1/5 could go toward charity.

3. Gifts of Assets. People often designate real estate, business interests, life insurance, retirement assets, machinery or even personal collections as gifts to Westminster Seminary California. There are a number of reasons people do this, whether it’s because the property has special meaning, their children have no further use for it or because they wish to protect their families from unnecessary taxes.

Through Westminster Seminary California’s partnership with Barnabas Foundation, you have access to complimentary planning support, from a Christian perspective. A Barnabas Foundation planner will help you develop a plan that honors God, cares for your family’s needs and supports the causes that matter most to you.

Q: I’d like to include a gift to Westminster Seminary California in my will. What language do I need to give my lawyer?

A:  Thank you for considering a gift to Westminster Seminary California in your will! By doing so, you will model to your loved ones a steadfast commitment to financial stewardship, charitable giving, and building God’s Kingdom.

By using the following language in your will, you ensure that Westminster Seminary California continues to educate future pastors for Christian churches well beyond your lifetime.

I give to Westminster Seminary California, a nonprofit ministry with its principal offices located at [ADDRESS, CITY, STATE] [the sum of $____] OR [____% of the residue of my estate], to be used [for its general purposes] OR [designated purpose]. If, in its opinion, the need for funds for the designated purpose no longer exists, Westminster Seminary California is authorized to use these funds for a similar purpose.

Take the next step in putting a plan in place today by requesting “How to Give to Westminster Seminary California in Your Will.”

Q. On the topic of drafting our wills, my spouse and I are “stuck.” What do you recommend?

A. Congratulations! You’re in good company.

Whether it’s because of difficult family dynamics, strong emotions, complex property holdings or just a lack of clarity about what to do and when, many couples struggle to navigate the estate planning process. In fact, the best statistics show 60% of Americans don’t have an up-to-date will in place!

But just because it’s common, doesn’t mean this should be your story!

Many couples enlist the help of a trusted planner to guide them through these important conversations. Experienced planners have waded in these deep waters many times before, and they can help you identify creative solutions to move forward.

Through Westminster Seminary California’s partnership with Barnabas Foundation, you have direct access to this kind of trusted planning support. At no cost to you, you can speak with someone who not only understands the tax-wise options available, but who also approaches planning from a values-driven, God-honoring perspective.