Sam and Katie Fordham had discussed estate planning, including the care of their three children. They even told their families their decisions, but the plan had never been put on paper. That’s where The Baptist Foundation of Alabama stepped in to help.
“Discussing one’s estate and making decisions for end of life is not fun,” the Fordhams told The Alabama Baptist. Sam is pastor of Oak Bowery Baptist Church in Ohatchee. “It is emotional to think about preparing a plan for your children in the event God takes you home.” However, they said, “once we were done, there was immediate peace knowing that we planned as best we could for our children.”
A few years after committing their plan to paper, Katie was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease and underwent multiple medical procedures. Her condition is under control now, but the peace of having their estate in order persisted through the medical trial.
The Fordhams are one of many families that have been assisted by the Foundation in drafting a will. Rodney Bledsoe, the Foundation’s director of ministry engagement, says a will ensures your assets are distributed to loved ones as God leads you rather than as the state determines.
“The state of Alabama has written a will for everyone regardless of whether or not you have written one,” Bledsoe said. “It may or may not be what you would want to accomplish if the Lord took you home before you’re ready. A will lets you pass the things the Lord has blessed you with to the next generation in the way you have prayed about and feel led to do.”
Matters can get complex when someone dies without a will. Typically, the deceased person’s spouse inherits $50,000 to $100,000 plus half of the remaining assets. The other half is distributed among surviving family members. The distribution formula changes depending on the deceased individual’s family situation.
Despite the complications, seven in 10 Alabamians die without a will. The reasons vary from being intimidated by legal documents to a lack of proper stewardship to life simply getting in the way.
“Nobody plans to die before they’re ready,” Bledsoe said.
The risks of dying without a will may leave some wondering whether there is an affordable and simple way to create one. Bledsoe says there is. The Foundation has partnered with a ministry called PhilanthroCorp to help Alabama Baptists determine their estate plans. That includes thinking through tax implications and the best ways to transfer funds to loved ones.
Once the plan is established, an informal network of attorneys around the state helps the foundation’s clients by drafting their wills at an affordable rate. Typically, a basic will with an accompanying power of attorney, enabling someone else to make financial decisions when the person can no longer act on their own behalf, costs $1,000 to $1,500.
That may seem like a lot, Bledsoe said, but it’s a matter of priorities.
“I know what people spend on cell phones,” Bledsoe said. “In the end, they don’t want to spend the money because they don’t think they need to. Disney World comes over estate planning almost every time.”
After the will has been drafted, an advocate with either the Foundation or PhilanthroCorp will review it to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks.
“We like to hold your hand and make sure everything is working the way it should,” Bledsoe said.
James and Jerilyn Smith are among those who have benefitted from the Foundation’s estate planning service. Before moving overseas as International Mission Board representatives years ago, they had prepared a will. More recently, they updated the will with a computer program but lacked confidence that their estate plan would stand up in court if challenged.
They connected with the Foundation because of James’ ministry as director of missions for the Tallapoosa Baptist Association in Jackson’s Gap. Updating their will, they said, gave them “peace of mind.”
“There was no pressure on how we should leave our estate or feeling of judgment based on the size of our estate,” they said in a written testimonial. “Everyone was very supportive and dedicated to fulfilling our desire to leave an inheritance for each of our children and grandchildren, but also to give to Christian ministries that are dear to us to help extend God’s Kingdom.”