Lean Not On Our Own Understanding

posted Aug 2, 2013, 8:36 AM by Willie T. Butler   [ updated Aug 2, 2013, 8:37 AM ]
(Originally Published | September 13, 2011)

On Wednesday, September 8th, the Los Angeles Times published an article titled: “Many Baby Boomers don't plan to leave their children an inheritance.” According to their source—an investment firm that specializes in estate planning and trust services—about 49% of their baby boomer clients plan to leave little to nothing in their estates. As a Boomer myself and as someone that has analyzed the issue of inheritance from a public policy and Biblical perspective, I fully understand what is behind this selfish-minded and highly protectionist view, however, my contemporaries are simply wrong to make such a decision.

There is an implied social compact between America and each new generation. This agreement sets parameters by which each generation feels entitled to specific benefits at specified times and based on certain conditions in the future. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1933, it became America’s most significant social compact since our nations’ founding. After the Great Depression fueled by America’s horrific stock market and banking system crash in 1929, and after World War l, there was a need to introduce certain protections against what Roosevelt termed, “the vicissitudes of life,” referring to financial hardships that any American could someday face. Social Security provided a national financial safety-net which became for many their only dependable source for income during their senior years.

Boomers overall have felt like a sandwiched generation, assuming responsibility for raising their families while pursuing their own dreams and aspirations; and while also assuming physical and financial responsibility for their post-depression era parents who—it turns out—are outliving their life expectancy and thus outspending their modest nest-eggs. As far as Boomers are concerned, they have cared for everyone else while having to deny themselves the things they worked so hard to acquire, and now it should be their turn. So when coupled with a severe downturn in America’s economy and in their retirement accounts and personal property values, there is considerable fear and much anxiety about what the future holds.

Boomers were also banking on the so-called Wealth Effect which was touted in the mid-to-late eighties as a substantial transfer of wealth from depression-era parents to their baby boomer children. However, this estimated $40 trillion of assets never fully materialized or transferred hands and worst, a significant amount of this anticipated inheritance has sharply decreased due to the extended and expensive healthcare costs that older Americans have had to spend on themselves.

These are some of the reasons boomers think they deserve to spend whatever they have amassed on themselves. With all the talk about a failed economic system, with the escalating cost for a college education—which many have financed for their children—and with today’s graduates returning home to live due to so few jobs, most boomers have loss confidence that they will receive their benefits as promised. So, some say that if they don’t get to enjoy them now, they never will.

I too have felt sandwiched as a baby boomer. But where my views differ from my contemporaries is in my understanding of the moral precedent that Scripture provides found in Proverbs 13:22. In this verse I discovered purpose for everything I do as an ambassador of Christ and as matter of practical significance. Not only—according to this verse—am I to leave an inheritance to my immediate family, but to my children’s children, or grandchildren. Imagine the surprise among many when they learn that two generations of family should benefit from our decades of opportunity to accumulate and transfer substance to our progeny.

Interestingly, for the same reasons boomers give for thinking of themselves first is the exact reasons why leaving an inheritance to one’s grandchildren makes good practical sense. First, savings that are invested over an entire generation cost less to start while ensuring a significant return over time. Second, when parents no longer have to worry about how they will take care of their children, they are free to make better, more reasonable decisions about their choice of jobs or careers, their quality of life and their pursuit of God’s purpose.

And more important to the Lord, an inheritance enables the seeds sown in one generation to continuously bear fruit in successor generations as well. Afterall, Kingdom resources were never about us but are for His purposes. Imagine what our grandchildren will accomplish for the Kingdom of God when money concerns disappear.