It’s one of the most common questions I get asked: “How much should I leave my children?” Although the Bible is clear that a good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren (Proverbs 13:22), the Bible doesn’t prescribe what that inheritance should be or how much the inheritance should be.
However, there are at least 5 principles of inheritance from Scripture that deserve attention.
Principle One: It’s Your Responsibility to Provide Order.
Sometimes in a planning conversation, I will hear a parent say, “Well, what do I care? I’ll be gone. My kids can figure it out.” When King David was nearing his last days, his kingdom was not in order. His successor to the throne was not clearly in place, and in absence of that clarity, his son Adonijah seized the throne. His wife Bathsheba was forced to go to King David and make clear that Solomon was to be king. She stated boldly, “And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him” (I Kings 1:20). As a parent, it was David’s role to designate who would come after him. Similarly, it’s our responsibility to provide a clear plan for our children’s inheritance.
Principle Two: God Desires Generations.
Our western culture has taught us to raise our children to independence—for our children to go on and live their own lives. That notion of independence has sometimes led to separation, and even encouraged a departure from values. But God desires for families and their values to continue for generations. Consider God’s command to Abraham: “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations’” (Genesis 17:9). As we consider leaving an inheritance, it should be with the notion that we want our family to continue for generations in an ongoing covenant.
Principle Three: Pass on Values Through Your Family Story.
One of the most powerful forms of inheritance is the family story. Can your children and even grandchildren tell how you met, your struggles, your growth—the stories that make your family unique? In the Old Testament as part of the annual Passover celebration, God prescribed that the celebration should always start with the youngest child asking a question: What do you mean by this service? (Exodus 12:25-27). This question was the impetus to start the storytelling, the remembrance of what God had done for them.
Principle Four: Love Equally but Treat According to Responsibility.
While we should endeavor to love our children equally, it doesn’t mean that we should give them an equal inheritance. When Israel blessed his 12 sons in Genesis 49, the oldest son, Reuben, should have received a double inheritance. But Reuben was unfaithful, so he didn’t get the share. Similarly, sons 2 & 3, Simeon and Levi, had fierce anger, so they were disqualified. It was the fourth son, Judah, who got the double portion. As a practical matter, the larger the estate and the larger the responsibility, the more likely that there may be a need for unequal inheritance.
Principle Five: Inheritance as Mission.
While there’s little doubt that leaving an inheritance is a great gift, in Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously, David Green states that the first inheritance should be a set of values, virtues and work ethic. When it comes to financial wealth—particularly when larger amounts are involved—David points out that he would rather not have wealth if it meant losing one of his children or grandchildren for eternity. The more a family is aligned around a vision, a mission and a set of values, there’s a greater reason to keep family wealth together.
There’s little doubt that I’ve only skimmed the surface on these ideas. More of these thoughts and ideas can be found in David Green’s book noted above. I’m also working on an upcoming book called What’s the Purpose of Family? However, I invite your thoughts and views. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.