What Will I Leave Behind?

I was 17 when my dad died. It was sudden and deeply disorienting. Those days and weeks immediately afterward were a dense fog of grief and cleanup. He died without a will or estate plan (mainly because he had nothing to plan).

As the youngest of 5 kids and the only one still living at home without an adult job, I received the largest "inheritance". After paying all the bills, my dad’s “estate” consisted of $3,000, a small plastic trash can full of change, and a few mementos. I got the entire checking account and the trashcan of change, which I used to feed the laundry machines in my freshman year of college.

A few weeks after his death, his friend came over to deliver my dad’s 7-year sobriety coin. My dad had been an active participant in an AA at his church and the coin was to celebrate his latest milestone. Even as a kid, I knew this coin was worth more than any amount of money I could have inherited. It represents so much more than I can easily capture in a short blog - from pain and lasting damage of his addiction to the good things that came with sobriety. Best of all, his journey to freedom brought him close to His savior. My dad was the first person I remember telling me me about the reality of Jesus. In some way, his 7-year coin tells part of my own faith story.

I think of these experiences often as I talk to families walking through generational wealth transfers. I’ve seen parents with the perfect estate plan, by lawyer’s standards, whose children refuse to speak to each other when the estate is finally settled. I’ve watched the aftermath of a large inheritance destroy a friend. Once a happy mom with a good marriage, the money allowed her a lifestyle of extravagance, parties, and chemical addiction.

I could go on and on with stories, but you get the point.

I really don’t have an answer. Just a plea, of sorts, to parents planning their estates and figuring out what to leave to children. Don’t let lawyers dictate the process; a lawyer's primary role is to avoid probate and estate taxes. But a lawyer they cannot shepherd the hearts of your children and grandchildren. Please, please, get biblical counsel on the matter. Read “Splitting Heirs” by Ron Blue or “Money, Possessions, and Eternity” by Randy Alcorn.

When my own life is reduced to memories and the stuff I've left behind (hopefully several decades from now), what is it that I want my kids to walk away with? More than anything else, I pray they have a deep, abiding faith in Christ and a set of memories that serve them well in their own journeys.