Maybe you can learn from my mistakes! As a graduate, fresh from the halls of academia, I plunged into parish work. For me the conference office in our local territory was a virtually unknown frontier.
I did not understand all the protocol and procedure of life in relation with the office staff. I therefore found myself at times either at odds with the programs or ignorant of the legitimate help they could give my congregation and me.
It was not until after a number of years of experience that I discovered a more focused relationship with the departmental ministries of my local conference. One of these I must admit I had hardly noticed—the Trust Services department. My discovery of the value of this department was largely due to the Trust Services director in my conference at the time, Alf Johnson. His friendly and kind authenticity attracted me, and I began to have an interest in what he was actually about in the conference.
The conference association (the legal corporation of our church) came under his supervision. I was fascinated with the details that he administered and was amazed with the order and carefulness with which his office looked after conference legal matters such as church properties and the management of trusts. His thoughtfulness and friend ship soon caused me to recognize the need of a proper will for my own personal situation. At the time, my wife and I had two small girls, and we had begun to grasp the worth of having a plan that would care for them in case we as parents faced unforeseen trauma or death. And so, with Alf, we initiated the process of preparing our own will.
Will preparation for the pastor
In this we were encouraged to select guardians for our children and provide funds for their education and future needs in case we would not be there to do so. The process also called for us to think about our parents, who might need to know that we were considering them when we prepared the document. The entire experience gave us a sense of satisfaction and security. We had provided for our family in case we could not do so in the future. As we arranged to write our will, we also provided for a percentage for the work of the church. This also gave us a touch of fulfillment as we realized that our ministry could continue even after death.
In those early years our "estate" was not large, but we did have some assets: a small savings account, household possessions, an automobile, and a monthly bank account. "Not worth the trouble of designing a will!" you might say. But in those "gathering and collecting" years, we had more than we realized or had actually counted up. We rightly decided it was worthwhile having even these small assets properly designated for family and faith. We also realized that sometimes there are lawsuits that can accrue to one's estate or, as in my case, there are life-insurance policies that have been carried by one's own family. I remember that I cashed in one such policy that had been carried on my life, provided by my grandparents since the time of my birth. So, it is wise to consider that there may be "outside" and "contingent" assets in your estate that you have not thought of.
Learning from mistakes
After my initial experience with Alf and making our will, I continued to enjoy my years of pastoring. I kept a close relationship with the people, especially the older ones in my parishes. I associated easily with them. I also found that I had a special interest in legal is sues. I realized that I enjoyed working with the procedural patterns in real estate, had a curiosity about powers of attorney, elder care, and conservatorships. So it is not surprising that during a conference presidential annual review of my work I mentioned these interests to my pastoral leader. Not long after this conversation, I was invited, and accepted the invitation, to join the local conference Trust Services department as one of the trust officers. Among other things, in doing this I hoped that I could be of genuine assistance to pas tors who needed thoughtful help from a colleague who had made his mistakes with these issues while pastoring. I remembered especially one situation I had not handled too well as a pastor.
I recalled a well-to-do parishioner in one of my churches. The elders of my church called me one afternoon and told me that this man wanted to leave the local parish a sizable gift from his estate. His wife had died some years before. He had no children and though he had some financial obligations, his major desire was to benefit the local congregation and its program. My church leaders wanted to draft an instrument right there in the boardroom of our church. They asked me to "type it up." Then, in well-intentioned zeal, they encouraged him to sign this "draft" while they gathered around to sign as witnesses.
This was not a good plan. I was young and inexperienced, so I followed along. If only I had called the conference Trust Services personnel and got ten guidance and input. How much more appropriate to have had a qualified third party to assist our member in his decisions and desire or to have the resources of the conference to help in these arrangements.
I remember another situation I learned from, involving another pastor. He came to the conference office with a non-church member from his community. She loved the local programs offered by the local Adventist church and wanted to "make a donation" of properties to this small parish. In this case the minister was wise in coming to the Trust Services department of his conference. What caught the attention of the Trust Services personnel was that the pastor evidently had a seriously limited knowledge of property and real estate deeds and documents, because none of the papers he laid before them had the woman's name on them. He could have saved himself embarrassment, time, and mileage. The woman had apparently collected deeds from the local county clerk's office and made copies. These she offered to the church as if they were legally viable. There were no documents upon which she had any vested rights as an owner. The conference Trust Services director was obliged to pleasantly thank the woman and to diplomatically decline her offer.
As colleagues in ministry, we would do well to acquaint ourselves with some of the legal issues that arrive within the church community and among its business affairs. It is also important for pastors and local church leaders to have information concerning the work of Trust Services and the office of the legal corporation of the church. This contact can certainly be the source of much benefit to the congregations and to the leadership of local churches.
As ministers we are in a position to bless and benefit our membership. One way of doing this is to have a well-informed sensitivity to the charitable concerns of the people under our care. Since the Trust Services department can offer some real security for maturing church members and can assist them in planning for their families and for an ultimate gift to the church, this is an interest area that pastors can nurture. We can encourage our people to dis cover the guidance of God's will in the handling of their estates and not simply seek to influence them with impending death as the motivator. With long-term planning, much good can be accomplished in families and in the church circle.
Not everyone will respond to the provisions of Trust Services. Many may feel more comfortable with their own legal counsel and personal planning. If this is the case, it is definitely best to leave the arrangements with the members. Hopefully they will still include the Lord's work in their wills and trusts. Our regular preaching and teaching, along with intelligent and balanced calls to remember God's vineyard in life and in death, should make its mark. We should be careful not to exert "undue influence" on our members or get into situations that may be construed by them or their families to be an "unlawful practice of law."
However, people do appreciate being helped. As pastors and parish leaders, we are facilitators, helpers, and enablers within the church community. Since any one of us is always looking for means and avenues of skillfully aiding our parishioners, I would recommend that your list of options include the assistance of Trust Services.
The pastor and Trust Services
As already implied, Trust Services (also called Legal Affairs, the Association, and Planned Giving) is a user-friendly concentration of advantages and benefits for one's church members and for the minister's own estate needs. There the door is open to provide a qualified and comprehensive look at planning providentially for the future. The services can include: ideas for the care of family needs, providing for peace in the hearts of children, provision for elderly relations and extended family, thoughts for enhancing charitable interests and sympathies, gaining security by action now for potential problems later, learning of income-producing trusts that pay donors now and assist church programs later.
This list constitutes a limited enumeration of opportunities that a visit to Trust Services can open up as pas tors seek to broaden the potential of their ministries of generosity. Church members can gain from Trust Services an inventory of available avenues and different types of instruments for planning as they think of their families and the work of God.
The first important movement for the minister is, as a spiritual leader, to acquaint himself or herself with what the local conference and union or mission office provides. In this there are wide differences between local conferences and unions. For example, of the 300 listed personnel for the North American Division Trust Services, just 203 are full time in this department. Of the 121 on record in other global divisions, less than fifty are full time in this ministry. This employee ratio is not in balance, but it is the situation at present in our world field, for reasons that are undoubtedly reasonable and valid.
So it may be that when you go to explore your sectional Trust Services facilities, you may find them to be very limited, nearly nonexistent, or quite sophisticated. Either way, it is worth while to explore your options as a pastor. This may well enhance your ministry and your usefulness to your local congregation.
Specific services offered
Testamentary will information is offered by many conference Trust Services departments. They may provide kits or brochures to enable church members to understand how to prepare a will. Some conferences will even pay for an attorney to meet with an interested per son and then draft the instrument for their approval and execution. Usually they have an attorney or solicitor on retainer to assist in this provision. Also, the conference officer will seek to dis cover the desires of the individual or individuals so that the local church pro gram and/or conference entities benefit from their estate. People may include the church in any size gift in their wills. However, because of the extent of the responsibilities of those who service the member's estate, most church organizations find it necessary to have at least a 25 percent gift for the church in order to manage a trust.
The revocable trust is a fine medium for a person, single or married. Since assets are named during one's lifetime as part of this trust, the probate procedure of most jurisdictions is not necessary. At death, the trustee (usually the conference trust department) sees to the distribution of the assets with out the use of time-consuming, costly, and unwieldy court proceedings. Many organizations now have self-directed trusts, which are the same as the revocable, except that the donors themselves become their own trustees. This is an acceptable plan to many who prefer to look after their own affairs until age or incapacity should change this. In such cases conferences can become successor trustees to assist the donor when events or circumstances make it difficult for them or their family members to provide the work and maintenance as trustee.
A unitrust allows a church member who has appreciated property to gift this to the conference organization. This instantly takes care of any capital gains liability, since the church is tax exempt when it sells such real estate. This is an excellent plan in countries where this is feasible and allowable under existing tax codes, especially for members who would experience large tax assessments were they to sell the property them selves. Once the trust is funded with cash from the sale of the gift property, the organization can invest this and pay the donor an agreed percent in income for their lifetime. A charitable deduction is also available in many locations. This is calculated from the value of the gift property, minus the potential payments to the donor.
A gift annuity is a fine way to increase one's income by simply placing cash in contract with a church organization. The person is then paid according to a set percentage, based on his or her age at the time of the gift. This annuity will pay an unchanging amount of income during the individual's life, a portion of which may be tax-free. The remaining portion of the annuity principal (left at the death of the donor) then goes to the church organization as directed by the donor before his or her death.
This is only a brief overview of the options. It is commendable and advisable for a pastor to gain at least a clear sense of the available charitable trust and contract arrangement options.
The beauty of stewardship in general, and this kind of stewardship specifically, is that it carefully considers the issues of family responsibility, the needs of gospel work, and the interplay of God's blessing and His providence in the life of the believer. It is a wonderful extension of the kind of gratitude that centers the life, work, and existence of an individual pastor, a parishioner, and the heartbeat of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a whole.