Our goal today is to address the wealth transfer process. The objective is to determine the proper allocation of resources among individuals and organizations we believe are best positioned to steward the resources we leave them. The results of this exercise may alter previous thoughts on your wealth transfer decisions.
Let’s start by identifying what wealth transfer is and how it compares to estate planning. First, the wealth transfer is not an event but a process. When we consider the wealth transfer process, we are looking more at the big-picture events and how they may affect your heirs or beneficiaries. At its core, wealth transfer should begin immediately, should be stewardship-driven, honor God as the highest priority, and should always consider the impact on your beneficiaries. Contrarily, estate planning is how we carry out the wealth transfer process. Consider this; the last stewardship decision you get to make is “Where does the wealth go?”
We must always consider the two most important questions regarding money. First, who owns it? Second, how much is enough? Let’s reflect on what the Bible teaches us:
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1, KJV).
Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5, KJV).
Now, let’s add one more important question to consider during the wealth transfer discussion. Is the next steward chosen and prepared? This question will make us all pause and reflect just who is best prepared to steward the resources God blessed us with. Often, it is not your heir apparent. It is important to remember that giving to charitable organizations may provide the best alternative to steward your wealth, because they can often exponentially expand God’s kingdom compared to an individual.
When I consider the wealth transfer process, I remember a fictitious story about wealth and desires called “The Begging Bowl”.
“The Begging Bowl,”
Upon coming out of his palace one morning and encountering a beggar, a king asks, “What do you want?” The beggar laughingly says, “You ask as though you can fulfill my desire!” Offended, the king replies, “Of course I can. What is it?” The beggar warns, “Think twice before you promise anything.”
Now, the beggar was no ordinary beggar but the king’s past-life master, who had promised in their former life, “I will come to try and wake you in our next life. This life you have missed, but I will come again to help you.”
The King, not recognizing his old friend, insisted, “I will fulfill anything you ask, for I am a very powerful king who can fulfill any desire.” The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. Can you fill this begging bowl?” “Of course!” said the king, and he instructed his vizier to “Fill the mans begging bowl with money.” The vizier did, but when the money was poured into the bowl, it disappeared. So he poured more and more, but the moment he did, it would disappear.
The begging bowl remained empty.
Word spread throughout the kingdom, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige and power of the king were at stake, so he told his vizier, “If my kingdom is to be lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.” He continued to empty his wealth into the bowl.
Diamonds, pearls, emeralds. His treasury was becoming empty.
And yet the begging bowl seemed bottomless. Everything put into it immediately disappeared!
Finally, as the crowd stood in utter silence, the king dropped at the beggar’s feet and admitted defeat. “You are victorious, but before you go, fulfill my curiosity. What is the secret of this begging bowl?”
The beggar humbly replied, ‘There is no secret. It is simply made up of human desire.”
(Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, 2021)
This story reminds us that our worldly desires should not affect our stewardship decisions or the lives of the ones we choose to steward our wealth. Our wealth transfer decisions should always remain God-focused. Sometimes, leaving our heirs with wisdom is the best inheritance we can give. King Solomon had something to say about wisdom.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it (Ecclesiastes 7: 11–12, KJV).
Wealth transfer decisions are difficult and should be made after careful planning and praying. There are many items to consider during this process:
1. Helping heirs financially without causing them harm.
2. Sibling rivalry.
3. Managing the expectations of heirs.
4. Providing for your spouse.
5. Providing for the kingdom.
6. Succession of the family business.
7. A desire to finish strong.
8. The legal and tax complexity.
9. Uncertain timing.
I am also reminded of the story in the bible of “The Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:11–32. The youngest son requested his inheritance early and then squandered all of it. Perhaps he was too immature to handle the wealth given. Here, we should consider carefully if giving money is appropriate in this circumstance or using estate planning techniques to delay the instant gratification infinity often displayed by immature children. Now is a good time to distinguish between the wealth transfer process and estate planning. There are some contrasting differences worth noting.
Wealth Transfer Process Estate Planning
the impact on beneficiaries’ highest priority impact on donor’s estate’s highest priority
begins Now begins at death
stewardship driven tax-efficiency driven
honors God may honor self
transfer ownership now retains control
Estate planning is the plan/tools used to carry out the wealth transfer process. Going through the exercise of wealth transfer should always be a predecessor to estate planning.
Here is the outline of the wealth transfer decision-making process.
Life Purpose Decision
1 — Transfer Decision — Who are you going to transfer the wealth to?
2 — Treatment Decision — How are you going to treat them?
3 — Timing Decision — When are they going to get it?
4 — Title Current Decision — When do you transfer title or ownership?
5 — Tools & Techniques Decision — What are the tools and techniques?
6– Talk — Have you talked to those affected?
Transfer decision — A person has three choices where wealth can go, heirs, charity, and taxes/expenses. Additionally, we need to consider the three principles guiding the wealth transfer decision. First is the treasure principle — we can’t take it with us, but we can send it on ahead, by Randy Alcorn. The second is the unity principle. A husband and wife need to be in perfect agreement about what the transfer plan is. Third, is the wisdom principle. Never pass wealth without passing wisdom. Wisdom may create wealth, but wealth does not guarantee wisdom. One may also want to consider some guiding decisions regarding wealth transfer. What is the worst or best thing that can happen if I transfer wealth to this person? How serious is it? And how likely is it to occur?
Treatment — the principle here is that you love your children equally, but you treat them uniquely.
Timing — The first principle is to time the transfer of assets to maximize their use by you, your heirs, and by Kingdom servants. The second principle is to “do you given while you’re livin’ so you’re knowin’ where it’s goin’. Finally, don’t try to control wealth from beyond the grave because you can’t, and you won’t care when you are in heaven.
Here is some wise counsel concerning the wealth transfer process. Don’t use the money to:
1. Manipulate behavior.
2. Change lifestyle.
3. Destroy the need to provide.
4. Come between husband and wife.
5. Come between parents and children.
6. Get in God’s way of dealing with your children.
7. Be manipulated by your children’s demands or expectations.
8. Avoid your stewardship responsibility.
I would add another wise counsel item: Don’t deprive God of a blessing.
Title — Should you transfer the title early or later? Remember, God owns it all. Therefore, he is the ultimate title holder. The best course of action here is to pray and ask God for wisdom concerning this matter.
Tools and Techniques — the first principle involving tools and techniques is to acknowledge techniques can accomplish the objective, but they are not the objective. Second, never use a trust because of a lack of trust.
Talk — The principal aim is to avoid creating a coping gap for your heirs. You must address their expectations with the reality of your decisions. To communicate your intentions and avoid the coping gap have family conferences and train the next generation in values, goals, and priorities. It is your responsibility to train them to understand the tax laws, investment principles, and strategies. Help them understand the formal transfer of stewardship. Family conferences should occur once your children become adults and continue every couple of years.
I hope this exercise helps you make wise decisions regarding the wealth transfer process. Wealth transfer is an important decision-making progression. Remember, wealth transfer decision-making begins now and must follow a process to be effective.
Your faithful servant
Keller, G., & Papasan, J. (2021). The one thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. Bard Press.
Pryor, A., & Biller, M. (2021). The Sound Mind Investing Handbook: A step-by-step guide to managing your money from a biblical perspective. Moody Publishers.
The holy bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: Translated out of the original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised: Authorized King James Version. (2016). . Thomas Nelson.