Estate planning benefits churches & other Kingdom causes

Published Nov 27, 2017

BENICIA — Virginia Souza died a year ago at age 92, but her legacy lives on through the estate she left.

A “significant” portion of it –— about $230,000 — was received in November by Benicia Fellowship Church in the East Bay Area.

“We haven’t spent a dime,” said Mike Mau, bivocational pastor of the church for the last 20 years. “There are things I’ve wanted to do for the last 15 years we haven’t been able to do — but we’re praying about it.

“We really want the money to be used wisely,” Mau continued. “We want to be good stewards, honoring her commitment to the church and God’s work.”

A longtime widow, Souza was active in the church until her last two years. Into her late 80’s, she was involved in outreach, sitting on the sidelines handing out bottles of water to runners in city races, or candy and popcorn on the church parking lot during Halloween-type efforts. She would help prepare the fellowship hall for in-church and outreach events. She was nearly unfailingly in “her” cushioned chair on Sunday mornings.

“She was just a dedicated and faithful woman, that’s for sure,” said Mau, the fourth pastor since Souza became a member in 1982, two years after the church was planted. “She was very supportive of all our pastors.”

Souza was present when Judy Logan, director of strategic giving for California Southern Baptist Convention, spoke about the need for people to have wills and trusts that provide for their families and reflect their commitment to God.

There was a will in place that took care of her family, said longtime friend Charlotte Toler, but Souza’s interest was piqued when she heard she could also bless her church with her estate.

Souza and her son Jon met with Logan soon after the presentation, and drafted a new will.

“Jon also has a heart for the Lord,” Mau told the California Southern Baptist. “He’s very generous too, and was happy for his mom to do what she wanted with her estate.”

Virginia retired in 2007 as the City of Benicia’s treasurer. She lived frugally, even as she was quick to respond to church requests for aid to needy families as well as Operation Christmas Child and other ministries. As a result, the majority of her assets were in the home she had lived in for more than 30 years.

“The widow who made this gift loved the church and wanted to help the church reach the community with the gospel,” Logan explained. “It was very meaningful for her and her family to make this gift.”

As director of strategic giving, Logan makes presentations about Christian estate planning, and at no cost drafts estate plans for people who want to leave at least 10 percent of their assets to Christian causes.

The gift might be for their church, association, state convention — or one of its ministries, such as Disaster Relief, migrant ministries, women’s ministries and the like — as well as other Christian entities such as the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board or Southern Baptist seminaries and colleges.

“An estate plan should reflect the life of the believer,” Logan said. “It’s really powerful for the family to see what ministry their mom or dad loved.

“The key is to have a will or a trust to protect your family and to make sure your wishes are carried out,” she continued. “If every committed believer left a gift (to Christian causes) in their estate plan, our ministries would not suffer financially.”

An estate plan is a “snapshot” of a person’s assets at the time the will or trust is made, Logan explained. The value of the assets could increase or decrease during the will-maker’s lifetime, which is why it’s important to designate percentage gifts rather than dollar amounts.

“When you do a percentage, if the gift grows everyone (named in the will or trust) gets more,” Logan said. “If it depletes, your gift might be smaller, but it’s still a reflection of what’s important to you. It’s a powerful message and an important one.”

The message, she explained, is, “‘As a faithful believer in Jesus. I lived my life as a believer, giving to what I believed in,’ which is what allows the gospel to go forward.”

Logan and two estate planning consultants — retired pastor Gil De La Rosa and retired director of missions Bob Lewis — are now scheduling presentations for 2018. In those, they explain what estates include, what happens when there is no will, the steps necessary to create a Christian estate plan, and what such a plan should include.

Pastors and other leaders who see the need for a Christian estate plan can call Logan at 559-256-0867 or e-mail jlogan@csbc.com to schedule a presentation.

“This year we’re doing three times the work we did last year,” Logan said. “It’s a good problem. There’s more work than any of us can do out there.”

Only approximately 25 percent of Californians have wills, Logan lamented. When a person dies in California without a will, the assets go to probate, where the state decides how they think a person would want their assets allocated. Rarely if ever would anything be allocated to anyone other than family members, regardless of the harm the asset might do in the wrong hands; and in the case of an adult dependent, insufficient resources could be allocated for their lifetime care.

CSBC’s strategic giving works with the individual to ensure the person’s assets are appropriately allocated.

“Everyone can make a gift to Christian causes in their estate plan,” Logan said. “It’s a way of impacting California and the world for Christ, blessing the family with a final word of what was important, and of making one final testimony of the place God has in your life.”