Most church teaching on tithe focuses on giving a percentage of your paycheck—we are taught to tithe based on our income. The Bible talks about tithe in another way too, though. Leviticus 27:30 and 32 explain how the Israelites were required to tithe. “All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord. All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.” This doesn’t mean it is not good to tithe from your income, but we often overlook the fact that tithing in the Old Testament was used in a broader context than simply your monthly income—it referred to your wealth and assets as well.
Unless you are a farmer, your modern-day assets probably aren’t crops and livestock. But if you consider what crops and livestock were to the Israelites during that time, you realize they are very similar to some of our modern wealth-building tools. At the time, they used crops and livestock as their businesses and retirement accounts. Today, we put much of our wealth into long-term investments such as 401(k)s, IRAs, businesses, and property.
While we are alive, it is not very complicated to tithe on these assets, as the gains from them often come directly into our bank accounts, especially after we retire. But for many people, the point at which their wealth is truly assessed is after they pass away. Many of the items that are the largest portions of your wealth are not actually cash. For example, many peoples’ largest assets include businesses, homes, life insurance benefits, tangible assets, and retirement accounts. What if you want to ensure your heirs tithe on your estate after you pass away? How do you make sure your legacy includes stewardship?
Care for your beneficiaries first
It is extremely helpful to a church to receive gifts from estates, but the primary purpose of an estate is to take care of those who survive you. Your family should be your number one priority when determining how you distribute your estate. If you leave a spouse behind or children who aren’t working yet, they should be the focus of your will. Only after you know they will be taken care of should you consider putting money toward the church or other causes.
Create a will
Without a will, there is no way to ensure your heirs tithe on your estate. There are many benefits to creating a will beyond just guaranteeing stewardship. These include reducing stress for your family, dividing your property how you would like it divided (rather than how someone in your family or the local court wants it divided), deciding who takes guardianship of any minor children, and more. But if tithing on your estate is one of your concerns, creating a will is the most effective way to make sure it happens.
Set a specific bequest within the will
Within your will, you are allowed to specify a percentage of your money or a set dollar amount be given to a cause of your choice. Wills can include all kinds of required gifts, but normally people do not know how much money they will have when they pass away. This is why it is best to require a percentage of your money be given to a specific organization rather than a specific dollar amount.
Many people’s assets are used the most in the last few years of their life. This can mean that you may end up with much less money than you anticipated. If you designate a specific dollar amount, it may cause the other beneficiaries in your will to not receive as much as you would like. On the other hand, you could end up with far more money than anticipated and your gift could end up being much smaller than you would potentially like.
Give money, not assets
As pointed out earlier, most of our money is tied up in assets when we die. These assets should grow in value throughout our lifetime, which is why they are so beneficial. But when it comes time to distribute your estate, they may need to be turned back into cash. For example, it is likely not feasible to give 10 percent of a business or home to a charity and the other 90 percent to your family. Your business or home will need to be sold if you would like to distribute its value among multiple beneficiaries.
Even if you intend to give the full value of an asset to your church, it is better to sell the asset and give the church the money than to turn over the asset directly to the church. Many churches are not prepared to handle selling a home or business, and do not want this added stress, even if it is a generous donation. Instead, in your will you can instruct a trustee to sell the asset on behalf of the beneficiary and turn over the proceeds.
What if the asset is being passed down without being sold?
Many times an asset is passed directly from one family member to another. For example, a parents’ home is willed directly to a son or daughter without being sold. In these cases, the beneficiary is not actually gaining any money from the transaction, so there should be no need to tithe on it. They will not see the money until the asset is sold, and at that point it is out of your hands.
If you would still like to see some sort of tithing based on the value of the asset, though, you can always have the value assessed, determine 10 percent, and include a clause in your will to give that amount from your estate.