Estate vs. Stewardship Planning

I am a big believer in giving it all away and have always said that the best financial planning ends with bouncing the check to the undertaker. – Michael Bloomberg

Estate planning is a fancy term we financial advisors use to talk about how your hard earned money get’s carved up and distributed after you die.  But let’s call a spade a spade here shall we?  It’s really about trying to exert some control over your how your survivors behave from beyond the grave.  It’s the last chance most people get to tell their family what to do.

The fact of the matter is though that, once you’re already dead no will or estate plan in the world is going to guarantee that people honor your wishes.  And if people don’t honor your wishes there’s nothing you can do about it – you’re dead!  Sure you can name certain people or charities in your will but short of dumping all of your money into an insurance policy with a named beneficiary there is no guarantee that your final wishes will be honored.  And that’s if you even have a will in the first place, nearly 70% Canadians don’t even have that much of an estate plan.

But I digress…

What I really want to talk about is Stewardship planning.  That’s what a Meekonomist does instead of estate planning.  If estate planning is all about how to distribute your wealth after you die, stewardship planning is about giving your money away while you’re still here to direct its usage and see the benefit it can provide for others. 

Michael Bloomberg is not a Meekonomist but he wasn’t far off when he stated that the best financial planning involves bouncing the check to the undertaker.  What I think he was getting at is that since you can’t take it with you, you may as well spend it.  I’d rather see you give it away than spend it on yourself or your family.  I can hear some of you already, “That’s all fine and good for a rich man like Mr. Bloomberg but he’s a billionaire and I’m just getting by.” 

Are you?  Nearly every one of us in North America is among the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest people.  We spend more in coffee shops than nearly a third of the world’s population make in a year.  You may be just getting by but I promise you are also frivolously spending, or simply wasting enough money to make a significant impact on the lives of countless millions of people all over the world. 

But I digress…  Again…

The point here isn’t that we waste a lot of money, or that certain people have larger estates and therefore more options than others.   The point is that wealth accumulation is only good if it one day turns into wealth distribution.  You can either wait until you’re dead and hope that your survivors honor your wishes, or you can start to distribute your wealth now while you have the ability to control where it ends up. 

When Jesus said that “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me,” [Matthew 25:31-46] he meant for you to do it in your lifetime, not to sit on your money until you die and leave it up to the next generation.   By then it’s too late.  Giving is meant to be an active choice that has a price.  Sitting on your money and leaving the distribution, even with the greatest of philanthropic intentions, until after you’re gone ensures that you never have to pay that price yourself.

That’s not stewardship.

It’s actually the ultimate in selfishness.  It’s the financial equivalent of giving torn clothing to the thrift store or moldy bread to the food bank.  In reality you just gave away your leftovers and your garbage and it had absolutely no effect on you or your lifestyle at all.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ [Matthew 7:21-23]

Traditional estate planning has its place, especially since we have no idea of when we are going to die but for a Meekonomist it needs to compliment, not take the place of, stewardship planning.

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