The Queen of Soul died on August 16th.
As Rev. Lon Oliver at Nicholasville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) rightly predicts, “Aretha Franklin will be singing to our great, great, great grandchildren. Her artistry is timeless.”
The last weekend of August she was remembered and celebrated for her music, her story, her impact, and her legacy. Over 100 hundred pink Cadillacs lined the street near Aretha Franklin’s funeral, honoring the legendary singer and her Grammy-winning hit “Freeway of Love.”
And yet it’s Aretha’s own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who may be adversely impacted by another music-related matter: her estate. Why? She left no will. She left no estate plan to guide how to pass on to her family the wealth and assets she earned with her unique voice. She provided for no causes that mattered to her and that could extend her legacy in creative ways.
Instead, her estate will be publicly probated and her family will be plunged into the debate, distress, and legal wrangling that often leads families into conflict, animosity, and even division. I learned from my own family history how the death of a father and the battle over his estate led to hurt feelings and a quiet distance between siblings for decades.
Yes, Aretha’s soul is enduring, her voice unmatched, her funeral processional unique with 100+ pink Cadillacs; and yet she shares in an all-too-common story in her death: no will and no estate planning.
Aretha’s life has much to teach us, and so does her death.
You may not have a pink Cadillac to honor Aretha or a voice to belt out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” But you do have a life and legacy that can make an impact through a will and estate plan. Creating a will or updating one is one way to learn from and thereby honor Aretha in her death. More importantly, it would be a great way to honor your family and your God.
My wife, Rebecca, and I realized there isn’t an age that is “too young” for this. We are in our mid-30’s and our accumulated assets are… well… dominated by student loan debt. Nevertheless we decided to begin the important conversations that are easily and commonly ignored: what happens when one or both of us die? How will our death make a difference in the lives of others?
This was a holy and sacred moment for us.
We found an attorney who sat with us at our dinner table. We learned a lot, drafted a will, and made some decisions that brought us joy and purpose. Our family will benefit from that clarity and direction. We enjoyed selecting causes we cared about to include in our will, such as our alma maters and our church.
Your estate, like mine, may not rival Aretha’s, but our gifts combine in a cloud of witnesses to make a great and lasting impact. As Budget and Funds Chairperson for the Christian Church in Kentucky, I see how legacy gifts from the saints position Christ’s church for creative ministry opportunities, enables spiritual responsiveness to the present moment, and helps launch new churches.
If you’ve included your congregation or the region or a denominational ministry in your will, thank you. Your gifts make a long and lasting difference.
In closing, I hope you will consider the following questions and explore the links:
- Do you have a will or estate plan? If you aren’t already connected to a trusted wills, trusts and estate planning attorney, ask friends, coworkers, colleagues or family members if they have experience with an attorney or if they might recommend one.
- Have you included causes you care about, like your church, in your will or estate plan? Many people would gladly and purposefully include causes they care about in their estate planning, but often don’t know that it can be done, don’t remember to do so in the planning process, or don’t fully realize how impactful it is. In a 2013 study, if someone simply asked “would you like to include a charitable gift in your plans?” the number of people choosing to do so doubled. It tripled if people were told that many others leave legacy gifts to organizations they are personally passionate about. Lexington-based Attorney Peter Brackney wrote a blog post talking more about ways you can leave a charitable legacy in your estate plan and the impact it makes. (Full disclosure: Peter serves as moderator of the board for the church I serve–South Elkhorn Christian Church in Lexington, KY).
Does your church have a plan or policy to receive and strategically benefit from estate and legacy gifts? Setting up an endowment fund can be a step toward congregational health and vitality. Connect with The Christian Church Foundation to learn more, see sample policies, and discover how churches experienced accelerated generosity, new ministry opportunities, and congregational transformation.
You can learn about the Named Funds from churches and individuals that benefit the ministry of the Christian Church in Kentucky, here.
South Elkhorn Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky has a Legacy Partners webpage you can visit to see how one church is launching a new endowment fund and giving initiative. You can also learn about the incredible ministry and endowment story of First Christian Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky here.
Michael Swartzentruber serves as Senior Minister at South Elkhorn Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Michael also serves as Chair of the Budget and Funds subcommittee of the Regional Board. When not ministering alongside the amazing people of the church, he can be found chasing two little ones, trying out a new restaurant with his wife, Rebecca, training for that next half-marathon, hiking in the mountains, or searching earnestly for a good coffee shop.