Leaving An Inheritance

By Ron Kelley

Whenever my mother makes a significant purchase, one of her children jokes, “There goes our inheritance!”

Although stated in jest, in many families, the subject of inheritance is a big issue. Some children think their parents owe them something. Many older parents do without because they fell obligated to leave an inheritance to their children. What does the Bible tell us about leaving an inheritance for our children?

A Biblical Overview

In the Old Testament, Mosaic law was quite detailed in how the Israelites distributed the property of the deceased. Firstborn sons were legally entitled to a double portion of the inheritance due to their birthright (Deut. 21:15-17). Only if there were no sons were daughters allowed to receive property. If there were no children or direct hears, a distant family member would be able to inherit (Num. 27:8-11).

From a New Testament perspective, the word inheritance has a greater meaning than simply handing down property or material goods. The apostle Paul wrote to the Gentile believers at Ephesus: “I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hop of His calling, what are the glorious riches of his inheritance among the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). Paul was speaking of the inheritance God has for His people. He wants His children to possess spiritual truth far greater than material wealth, to have an accurate and thorough knowledge of God’s wisdom, and to live a life of peace as we focus our minds on His ways. everything we have is because of Christ. It came through His sacrifice, not ours, and it remain because of His faithfulness. Simply put, there are things much more valuable than earthly wealth and possessions. It could be argued that a Christian heritage is the most valuable asset a child can inherit from his parents. “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart form it” (Proverbs 22:6). 

Valid Warnings

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus addressed an earthly inheritance, explaining that it could easily turn to greed or an unhealthy obsession with material belongings. Jesus emphasized our inheritance is form God and the importance of storing our treasures in heaven. The late Larry Burkett wrote, “If I had to identify the area of Christian finances that is least understood, it would be inheritance. Not only do people wreck their lives by hoarding, but they also wreck the lives of their children and grandchildren with abundant inheritance.”

We read in Proverbs 13:22: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren.” This is the most common Scripture used in arguing the need to leave a material inheritance. However, in his book, Managing God’s Money, Randy Alcorn points out that Proverbs 13:22 does not apply to modern-day, affluent lifestyles. in Old Testament times, many people were too poor to purchase land. Without property to pass down to children and grandchildren, the descendants would likely find themselves enslaved and/or unable to provide for their families.

Prayerful Consideration

Does this mean leaving a material inheritance is unbiblical? Absolutely not, but we should invest time and prayer in deciding how much inheritance to leave our children. Here are several points to consider as we seek the Lord’s direction:

  1. When making any decision about money and possessions, never forget God is the owner of everything we possess. “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord” (Ps. 24:1).
  2. Consider investing in ministries that promote the work of Christ.
  3. Communicate your intentions and your reasons. For instance, if one child has carried a greater portion of care-giving responsibilities, you may wish to leave that child a larger amount.

The issue of an inheritance can create problems and infighting in the best of families. Careful planning and prayerful discernment are vital.

Practical Reminders

  • Double check to ensure only those you intend to include as beneficiaries are named.
  • Always update your will after any change in family status: marriage, divorce, births, and deaths.
  • Make a practice of reviewing your will annually.

Ron Kelley serves as the Director of Prestonwood Foundation at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. Feel free to ask him financial planning questions at rkelley@prestonwood.org.