Editor’s note: We invite you to read this interview because you will find helpful information for your members. We also invite you to protect your family by making certain that your will and other related documents are up to date. If you need assistance, contact your local conference or the Web site mentioned in this article in order to be directed to the appropriate office.
Nikolaus Satelmajer (NS): Please, tell us something about your team and your work.
Jeffrey Wilson (JW): I am Jeff Wilson, the director of Planned Giving & Trust Services at the General Conference since 2000. Wilfredo Sumagaysay, associate director, came in 2003. We have divided our travel responsibilities among us. Chuck Simpson, associate director, has been with us since 2002. He stays close to the office here and is involved in the file management and education in North America. Richard Caldwell is our legal counsel at the Office of General Counsel. He spends most of his time addressing Trust Services matters.
Willie Hucks (WH): Could you explain the term planned giving?
JW: Planned Giving & Trust Services deals with gifts that need planning, legal assistance, and other kinds of professional help. Sometimes the gift is deferred; we call that, of course, deferred giving. For example, I leave a portion of my estate to God’s work in my will, but the gift will not be given until my death.
Richard Caldwell (RC): There are two basic kinds of trusts. A revocable trust is where individuals keep full control and power over the assets during their lives, can take it back whenever they choose, and then at death the assets are distributed as they had stated. Then there are certain types of irrevocable trusts, which involve unique tax consequences. An individual may put the money into one of various charitable irrevocable trusts, and income will then stream back to that individual for a period of time. When that person dies, or the trust ends, what is left in the trust goes to the church or other ministry. Though other kinds of trusts exist, those two are the basic categories with which we most often deal.
NS: Who would like to say something about wills?
Wilfredo Sumagaysay (WS): In many countries, wills are the only instrument for Trust Services. Those countries do not have the kinds of trusts Richard just mentioned.
NS: What is the difference between a will and a trust?
RC: A trust takes effect as soon as the person creates that trust and puts assets into it. Sometimes payments can begin coming back to them right away. A will names an executor to take care of the person’s estate after that person dies. A will can also name guardians for minor children as well as determine who gets the assets when a person passes away. A will takes effect only at death while a trust, depending upon how it is set up, can be active both in life and after death.
NS: Thus individuals can arrange through trusts so that a certain portion of income can be turned over to the church or family while they are still alive. Is that right? Additionally, they can write a will so that their estate will be distributed according to their wishes.
RC: Yes. In fact, with a will, they can create another trust that can take care of family members, special needs, or whatever they wish after they, themselves, are dead.
JW: Our work is important. We provide people with information for planning for their estates. Otherwise, after their death, their income and assets may not be distributed as they would have wanted.
WH: When there is no written will, how is the guardianship of minor children addressed?
RC: If you die and do not appoint a guardian in your will, then state law has priority. That’s why it is a critically important part of a will, if you have minor children, to make sure you name the people whom you want as the guardians of your children.
JW: In some countries, for example, if I died, my brother could come and take everything and leave my wife and my children destitute. Sadly, that can happen in a number of countries when a will has not been written. It becomes real sticky in some countries with regards to the guardianship of minors. If the parents die, and there are no other Adventists in the family, there’s no guarantee that the judge is going to put the children in an Adventist family as opposed to placing them with just another family member, regardless of their religious beliefs. In fact, the judge would probably place the child with the nearest blood relative or the nearest family with the most wealth. That’s, again, why a will must be drawn up that specifies what to do with minor children in the event of the deaths of their parents.
NS: The key is for ministers to encourage church members to use the system that exists in order to protect their family and decide what, if anything, they wish to share with the church.
RC: That’s important—your point about if they decide to give to the church. Planned Giving & Trust Services is very careful not to tell people what to do with their money. Our job is to share spiritual principles, but we never give recommendations. That’s always the sole decision church members make based on their situation, their discussion with family, and, we hope with prayer.
WH: I imagine a significant part of your job is educating people. What, if any, are some myths or misconceptions about wills, trusts, and planned giving?
RC: One of the biggest myths I encounter is that you must have a will because if you don’t, then the state takes it all. That is not correct. State law governs by giving priority to certain family members. Only when there are no family members do the assets go to the state, which is very uncommon. A second myth I’ve encountered is the idea that Trust Services will not administer your will or trust unless you give everything to the church. That is not correct either.
NS: So, in a sense, planned giving tries to help us manage our assets and exercise responsibility to family members when we are no longer around.
JW: That’s right.
NS: What else would you add to that?
Chuck Simpson (CS): We assist individuals who want to irrevocably transfer assets to a charity and receive a life income as a part of that gift plan.
If we are talking about what we do in Planned Giving & Trust Services and only relate to wills or revocable trusts, that is only a portion of what happens. In the United States, there are significant benefits to donors who want to irrevocably transfer assets to a charity and receive a life income as a part of that gift plan. Those gift plans take different characteristics. So that is a big part in what we do in educating people in responding to donor inquiries, helping them through the various steps of getting the details cared for and properties transferred properly. Not only for deferred giving where they give an income and the gift goes to the Lord’s work, but current giving of highly appreciated assets. I worked on a gift of commercial real estate in the northeastern part of the United States valued at three-quarters of a million dollars where we worked with a buyer to turn that appreciated asset into cash so that the Lord’s work, in this case ADRA, will have that money to use in the ministry.
NS: Does planned giving provide an opportunity for members to remember their local congregation?
JW: Definitely. That’s exactly what many church members do.
NS: So then, what can pastors do to utilize the concept of planned giving?
JW: Invite someone from the Planned Giving & Trust Services department to come to their church and conduct a personal estate planning seminar.
RC: The local pastor can talk about stewardship, preach about Christian stewardship, and, as part of that discussion, mention estate planning with wills and trusts.
WH: Do you have field representatives worldwide?
CS: Most conferences have Planned Giving & Trust Services departments, and their staff can go to people’s homes or make presentations at churches. In North America, for example, we have three hundred certified Planned Giving & Trust Services personnel.
JW: One thing we’ve tried to encourage is that pastors themselves have their own wills in place. That is why we created a brochure and have some ads you’ve seen every once in a while in Ministry, that talk about real-life pastors, what they have done, and how it has benefited them personally and blessed their churches. Let me also add that we have a Web site: www.willplan.org.
NS: What is the track record of these trusts being managed according to what was set up? Were the provisions of the trust followed? Can people feel comfortable that what they wanted to be done is done?
CS: Superb track record.
RC: The General Conference Auditing Service has a team of trained auditors who audit trusts and wills, and verify, through their audit tests, that the wills and trusts are, in fact, managed in accordance with the terms of the documents and in accordance with applicable laws.
WH: Are there special considerations pastors or other ministers should keep in mind that others might not need to for themselves?
JW: When ministers move, they should have their wills reviewed to make certain they meet the legal requirements of the new jurisdiction.
CS: All individuals, not only ministers, should review their wills, trusts, etc., when they move.
RC: Other events such as divorce, health conditions, changes in financial circumstances, birth of children, etc., should trigger a review. I suggest that in general a person should review their plans every three to five years.
NS: Tell our readers about a living will, especially in the context of today’s health-care systems.
RC: With a medical power of attorney for health care, you’re saying that—were you unable to make your own medical decisions—you have delegated to some other party the power to make those decisions for you. With a living will, you can make those decisions yourself if you are suffering from one of the specific conditions outlined in the laws of your state.
WH: How much does or has church membership contributed through planned giving, say, over the course of a year or over the course of a few years?
JW: Since 1968, more than a billion dollars.
RC: Again, a primary incentive is not to increase the gifts to the church; the incentive is to encourage individuals to plan their estates based on their desires and situations.
WH: If you had one thing to say to pastors that would help them fulfill the mission of planned giving, what would that be?
JW: If I was speaking to pastors, I would first encourage the pastors to have their own plans in place, up to date. That would be my first priority. Then that they would share these principles with their membership.