There are several ways that families determine the allocation of the estate between children and ministries once the children are grown. Keep in mind that as long as the children are young enough to depend on the children’s trust, nothing is given to charity; however, once the children have been educated and helped into their first homes to whatever extent the parents choose, many Christian families decide to designate a tithe of their estate for the Lord’s work. Tithing in this context does not seem particularly scriptural, since tithing in Scripture relates primarily to income. In estate planning, remember, we are determining the ultimate stewardship of the capital we have accumulated over a lifetime of work; nonetheless, tithing is a familiar percentage to believers, so that’s often the percentage that people choose to give to ministries.
Even more frequently than tithing, we see families treating charities like an additional child once the children are grown and independent. If a family has three children, they might carve the estate into four equal parts, giving each of the children 25% of the estate and dividing the remaining 25% among their ministries. We think of this as creating a “child called charity.” Families seem to like this approach because it clearly expresses the value they place on perpetuating and participating in the work of the Lord.
Thoughtful planning can also result in a decision to cap the children’s inheritance at a certain level and leave the excess to ministry.
Two biblical perspectives affirm the idea of leaving the estate to a combination of children and charities. The first priority we see in Scripture is that of dependency: Timothy says that we are worse than infidels if we fail to take care of those in the household of faith. As a Christian, it’s difficult to imagine anything worse than being called an infidel! The phrase “those in the household of faith” refers to our financial dependents. Obviously, minor children are financially dependent on their parents, and anyone who has raised children understands only too well that their dependency doesn’t necessarily end the day the children turn 18. Financial dependence can extend beyond that, hopefully on an annually diminishing basis, but experience, wisdom, and Scripture agree that it is important for children to learn to stand on their own financially. In much the same way, ministries that have been important to us over our lifetimes—places where we have worshipped, mission organizations in which we or our friends have served, schools in which our children have been educated with a Christian worldview, and other kinds of ministries that we have supported during our lives—have become dependent upon us in a very real sense.
The second biblical perspective that should impact this discussion is that of love. John 3:16 says, “God so loved that He gave,” and in that context, we have the freedom to do whatever we feel God is leading us to do for people and ministries that we love.