Estate Planning

By Ron Kelley

Several years ago, a study found 70% of all Americans do not have a valid estate plan.

For those among the 70%, the reality involves the government and judges – who have never met us and do not know our hearts’ desires – making critical decision regarding the assets we leave behind.

There are many common excuses for not taking action in this area: lack of time, a perception that estate plans are for the very wealthy, or a belief that everything will work itself out when we die. However, nothing could be further form the truth. Without an estate plan, the surviving family will be left with the expense and heartache of having to pick up the pieces during a time of grieving.

Faithful Stewardship

As Christians, we have been called to be faithful stewards and good managers of what the Lord has provided. We have a biblical responsibility to make sure we have an estate plan in place. In fact, writing a responsible will is one of the most important financial decisions we will ever make.

Wise and Responsible

For most of us, a simple last will and testament will fulfill this responsibility, while others (based on their accumulated assets) should consult with their estate attorney, financial adviser, and CPA to develop their plan. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the simple last will and testament, which can be developed by an estate attorney at a reasonable cost.

Although affordable software kits or online guided to writing a simple will are available, this may not be the best action to take. An estate attorney may prove to be an invaluable asset during this time of adjustment for the remaining family. In addition, every state has different rules and regulations as to how things are handled during the probate process. Probate should not be viewed negatively since it insures that the wishes of the deceased are carried out in a legal and orderly fashion.

In the will, important fiduciary appointments, such as the executor, trustee, and guardian for any minor children are named. It is prudent to name backups for all of these appointments in the event the primary person name din unwilling or unable to serve at the needed time.

Secure and Accessible

Once the will have been signed, notarized, and witnessed, it is important to place this document in a sage and secure location, easily accessed by the executor. A safety deposit box at a local bank might seem to be the best choice, but unless someone other than the deceased has legal access to this box, obtaining the document could turn into a difficult process. There is an option of filing a will with the local probate court, but a nominal charge is involved and the contents of the documents become part of public record.

The best place to store a will and other important documents is a small, fire-proof safe, placed in a secured location at home.

What’s Next?

Other documents that should be considered when finalizing an estate plan, are a directive to physician, durable power of attorney, and medical power of attorney.

Terms to Know

  • PROBATE – the legal process in which the court reassigns titles, redistributes property, and pays off all outstanding debts.
  • EXECUTOR – the person appointed to administer the estate of the deceased and to insure that the desires expressed in the will are carried out.
  • TRUST – an arrangement in which one person holds the property of another for the benefit of a third party, called the beneficiary.
  • GUARDIAN – the person appointed and confirmed by a judge to take care of a minor child until the age of 18.


Ron Kelley serves as the Director of Prestonwood Foundation at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. Contact him at