Those of us in the Baby Boomer generation and older can recall hearing the term Last Will and Testament. These were the words identifying the legal document that carried a person’s last words and directives to those left behind.
The Last Will and Testament was to do two things. First, the document helped people to “will” their worldly possessions to others, either people or organizations. Second, the document served to declare or “testify” to what they had learned from life and make final statements of importance to their loved ones.
The phrase Last Will and Testament is seldom heard or used anymore. With our American desire to shorten, abbreviate, and simplify as much as we can, and probably in part to reduce the cost of drafting the document, we have removed the testament portion of this final declaration and focused on the willing of our possessions to others. Now we simply refer to this final document as our will, and the only time the phrase Last Will and Testament occurs is at the top of the document.
One of the great privileges of working in the area of estate planning for a college is the opportunity to read the Last Will and Testament of those who have named the college as a beneficiary in their final distribution of God’s gifts to them. Reading a will is a learning experience.
Most wills today are concise. There is the standard opening paragraph stating that being of sound mind and memory, the testator is now making the following directives for the distribution of property and hereby revoking and canceling all former wills. This is followed by paragraphs and sections that state how the testator's posseSSions are to be distributed.
But if you were to read wills of some of our very elderly citizens who were raised with former generations as their example for their wills, you will find quite a different document. I love reading these wills. They tell me so much about the person. They testify to the life and beliefs of the person. They share the testator's lessons learned in life and sometimes their challenge to those to whom they are passing on God’s gifts. They give me a much greater appreciation for the gift bestowed on my organization.
Some of the best examples can he found in final documents nearly two centuries ago. Consider the opening paragraph of the will of Peter Cottrell in 1803: “In the name of God, Amen. I, Peter Cottrell of Prince William County Virginia being sick and weak in body, of sound and disposing mind and memory, knowing that it is appointed for all men to die, do make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament, commending my soul into the hands of Almighty God, hoping alone for Salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ and my body to the dust to be buried in decent Christian burial at the discretion of my Executors. As to such Worldly Estate as it hath pleased God to bless me with I dispose thereof as follows .... ”
What a testimony for loved ones to read. And what a time to make our testimony—at our last opportunity!
Christians today should consider this opportunity to witness to their faith through their will. We should think in terms of spiritual wills as well as legal documents.
One attorney, Tim Minors, a member of First Presbyterian Church in LaGrange, Ga., writes on his web site <www.mindspring.com/-tminors/ spirit.htm-ES>that “Christian wills could also include a personal statement of faith, expressions of love, forgiveness and encouragement to family members; and instructions about donating assets to the church. A will does not have to be a cold, wordy legal document that reflects nothing of the personality of the person who signed it. It can be a source of comfort and encouragement to grieving family members.”
Remember, a will is a public document. Wouldn’t it be a special legacy to leave a Christian will that is forever filed as our testimony to the goodness and mercy of God in our lives? Who knows, someday in the future one of our relatives may locate our will at the courthouse and read how God led us in lives of faith.
It is important that we as Christians do not let the world lead us down another path of worldly materialism in regard to our final opportunity to testify and act for the Lord. We need to consider making our wills more spiritual and give deeper consideration to leaving our possessions not solely to our children, but also to places in God's kingdom where the gospel can move forward.
Our Last Will and Testament is, in a way, our final opportunity to witness to the world and our loved ones before we stand before the Lord God for judgment of our stewardship with what He gave us while we were in dominion over His earth.
Don Reed is Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas. Part of his duties include assisting college constituents in planning their estates. He is an elder in the Sterling Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC). He and his wife, Linda, have three children.