Elder law type issues have been dealt with for a long, long time.
And we can trace some examples of how elder law and estate planning issues have been addressed all the way back to Biblical times.
What in the world does the Bible and elder law have to do with one another you might ask?
(1) Isaac – What Happens When You Wait Too Long
We’ll start with one of my favorite stories, which relates to Isaac.
Issac was married to his wife, Rebecca, and then he had his two boys.
His oldest boy, Esau was a tough guy.
He was a man’s man, a big hairy kid, a hunter.
He was the kind of kid that a father would be proud of.
And of course, he was the oldest boy and that certainly held a particular position, especially in the Jewish tradition of the time.
And then he had his other boy, Jacob.
He was a little soft.
He was a small kid, more of an intellectual, maybe a little more touchy-feely.
The kind of kid that a mom’s gonna warm up to a whole lot.
And so we’ve got Isaac, we’ve got Rebecca, and we got their two kids.
The Jewish tradition at the time was that at some point in time Isaac would bestow his blessing, which essentially equated to a double portion of the inheritance and he would bestow that on his oldest son, Esau.
That was the Jewish tradition.
That’s what people did.
That’s what his plan was.
Everybody knew his plan.
This was not a secret.
Everybody knew what was going on and yet did Isaac do anything?
I think this is a story where for years and years I think Isaac just sort of let things ride.
He has his oldest son who was healthy and virulent and always out in the field doing his thing.
And he had Jacob who was maybe more around the home place there and everybody knew him.
But Isaac said, “Well, everybody knows. I don’t really have to do anything.”
And maybe you can relate to some of that, maybe you’ve put off doing some of your own planning for the future.
You know what you want, you know how you want it done.
You just haven’t done anything.
You haven’t taken those formal steps to take care of your estate planning.
So in this story we finally get to a point where Isaac is ready to take those formal steps to actually bestow that blessing, bestow the inheritance on Esau.
But at this point, Isaac is very aged, elderly, whatever you wanna call it.
He can’t see very well.
He doesn’t hear very well.
I would say probably at this point we would call Isaac, I’m guessing, homebound.
So Isaac figures, “Well, I’m aged. I need to go ahead and formalize my blessing and my inheritance.”
And so he said, “Esau, make my favorite meal.
Go out hunting, bring me the stew that I love and I’m going to bestow my blessing.”
And it didn’t quite work out that way.
As soon as he says that to Esau, Esau takes off running.
He was gonna go follow dad’s wishes.
But of course Rebecca, she had her ear to the door.
She heard all of this and she looked over her at favorite boy Jacob and she said:
“Hey look now, you need to get in there and pretend like you’re your brother. Because if you don’t go in there and pretend like you’re Esau, then you’re gonna get the short end of this deal. And your dad Isaac’s gonna bestow his blessing on Esau and you’re gonna miss out and so you need to get in there. And you know what, your dad is so frail and vulnerable. I mean he still has his mind, but he’s so frail and vulnerable we’re gonna be able to trick him.”
And Jacob looks at his mom.
He’s not a dumb kid.
He said, “Mom, there’s no way my little skinny body is going to be able to pretend like I’m that big hairy brother of mine, Esau.”
And she replied, “No, I’ve already got that planned out. Got it all figured out. What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna wrap you up in animal fur and then we’re gonna send you in there.”
And of course, they say he got wrapped up in animal fur, he went in and pretended like he was Esau.
And Isaac, he was so frail and vulnerable because of his eyesight and hearing and bedridden state.
All he could really do was reach out and feel that fur.
And of course, he thought he was talking to Esau and in fact bestowed his blessing on Jacob.
And so this is a situation where someone waited so long to formalize their arrangements that it ended up not going the way that individual wanted it to go.
From a theological standpoint, we all know that obviously the blessing to Jacob was apparently part of the grand Biblical plan.
But it wasn’t Isaac’s plan.
And so yeah, I’m taking it aside from the theological debate there.
But you know the thing is, is that we have seen, in doing this for 15 or 20 years each, we have seen so many times where what a person wanted, what they stated, what they told everybody they wanted did not happen.
And the reason it didn’t happen is because they failed to do anything to make it happen.
They, like Isaac, just let it ride.
Maybe they had told people but they’d never done anything.
And then at some point ’cause so often people forget about this point before death.
They know what they want at death or they know how they want when they’re healthy and can take care of themselves.
But this middle ground, this frail and vulnerable position, that’s where things can go bad.
And you have to be able to protect yourself from others and from yourself.
We’ve just seen so many things go wrong and again, that’s been going on for a long time.
Well, since Genesis.
(2) The Book of Luke – The Inheritance Backlash
Here’s a conversation that I have probably once a week or so in consultations.
I have somebody come in.
They’re mad because their sister took daddy’s watch.
Or so and so got this, or somehow they’re unhappy with the stuff that they’re receiving.
So we’ll have clients come in every week complaining about the split of an inheritance or gifts from parents among their children.
And you know, it’s very upsetting.
These people are mad.
There’s a division in the family and people aren’t talking to each other.
It’s a very bitter time for a lot of families.
Yeah, and it can be a family destroyer in all of this.
And we’ve seen it happen many times.
And again just to point out that nothing here is new, at one point Jesus was presented with a question.
In the book of Luke, Jesus is among the crowd and a person in the crowd calls out to Jesus and he says, “Jesus make my brother share the inheritance with me.”
Yeah, and again we’ve had people ask us this same question, “Hey, man can you make my brother share the inheritance with me?”
Jesus looks back at him and he says, “Look, first of all what makes me the arbiter of your situation?”
That’s a family, it’s a family dynamic, this is not a third party issue.
But more importantly he says, “But ultimately we’re talking about stuff, we’re talking about mere possessions.”
Like stuff that rusts and rots and goes away.
Some things that are quite valuable and some things that have a lot of sentimental value.
But at the end of the day, as we explain to our client, we’re glad to help you figure out what you’re gonna do with your stuff.
But our priority is helping you figure out how you’re going to enjoy your life.
Ultimately, you think back to somebody, a relative of yours that you cared about, maybe a parent that you’ve lost, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, somebody that you were close to that you liked and think back of your memories to them.
And are those memories centered around a vase?
A car? A bank account?
No, they’re centered around the relationship, the exchange of emotions and feelings.
That’s your true legacy, that’s the thing that you do need to be able to pass on.
Unfortunately, there’s so much mixture in here between the emotional and ephemeral legacy as opposed to the tangible stuff.
And so what that does is, it illustrates the point that if you want to preserve the real legacy, you have to address some of these other things and make sure that what you want is going to happen.
Because I think when I read that section of Luke, I thought to myself:
“Here, this person in the crowd has the opportunity to put a question to Jesus. And instead of asking the question of how they can be more God like or how they can improve in their stature and be more like Jesus, they squander the opportunity to find out something big. And they’re complaining about the brother who won’t share the inheritance.”
And of course, the person who’s asking this question from the crowd, we can certainly point the finger at that person and say, “Yes, you squandered your opportunity, you’re overly fixated on this one issue surrounding possessions and things like that.”
But you know from my experience there’s somebody else in here that we could also point the finger at.
That would have been that parent or that father.
Because I don’t know what the dynamics were with those two brothers.
I know that there was a rift, and so often that rift is because of something that happened by that parent:
Either they failed to plan.
They failed to explain their plan
Somehow it got twisted in there
Now these two brothers, they’re probably never gonna speak again.
That family relationship was destroyed.
And it could be because of the personality of one of those brothers.
But it could just as easily be because of poor planning and poor understanding.
Poor execution by that senior before they passed.
Oftentimes think of it in terms of legacy.
Those two brothers, their memory of their father, because if they were receiving an inheritance at this point and time it would have come from the man.
So their inheritance from their father, their memories of their dad now are tainted by this situation.
Every time they think of their father, they’re going to think of this rift that was created.
That has become his legacy in their lives.
That’s probably not the kind of legacy that you wanna leave in the minds of your children.
So yeah, be sure and do some planning.
Learn from this, and do some more planning.
I think we’re supposed to learn from it or else it wouldn’t be there in the chapter of Luke.
(3) Jesus’ Estate Plan – Take Care of My Ma
We’ve talked about the Old Testament and Genesis and the story of Isaac.
We’ve talked about the New Testament and the gospel of Luke where Jesus was teaching in the crowds and a question about inheritance came up.
And we have one more reference that I like to share with our readers today, and that had to do with the fact that Jesus himself made an estate plan.
Especially when we, when Lisa and I, go out and give presentations to the community, a lot of times somebody will…
Again, there’s always a joker in the crowd, and there’s usually somebody that’ll say, “Well, you know, I wish I had enough that I had to worry about it. I don’t have enough to have to plan for it.”
Yeah, nobody’s gonna fight over my stuff.
There’s nothing to it.
I don’t have anything at all.
Well, when you talk about Jesus’ estate, what did he have?
When he was crucified, his robe and his cloak and his clothes, they were divided out.
I believe the Roman soldiers took dibs on his clothing.
And he had no money of his own.
So at that point in time, I can’t think of a better definition of someone who had no stuff to plan about.
But he did still have something that was very important, and that was his mother.
Jesus knew that she needed to be taken care of.
He was going to be gone, and he was gonna leave behind somebody else that needed to be seen after and needed to be tended to.
And here it is, at least at this point, friends…
Jesus is the oldest son of Mary.
This is the first child that Mary birthed, and so under Jewish law, he had very particular obligations to Mary.
And it appears that Joseph, Mary’s husband, must have already been deceased.
He’s not mentioned.
So here we are at the cross.
Mary is there watching this take place with her son.
Jesus is still concerned about his obligation to his mother even on the cross.
So he looks over and he tells John, “Take care of my mother after I’m gone. I’m entrusting her care to you,” and he had picked the right person.
Because he took her in where she lived with him for the remainder of her days.
John tended to her needs.
But the point here is that you…
Even if you have very little in the way of assets…
In the way of worldly things.
You do have other things, and that’s the people around you, the people you care about.
And even if you don’t have family, there are organizations, there are churches, there are non-profit organizations out there that are out there doing good work, and you can benefit these.
You can benefit those people.
You need to be thinking about not just the stuff you’re leaving behind, but are you really protecting the people you leave behind?
Are you leaving them better than what they would have been without you?
So often, people, they’ll have a spouse and maybe they do a will that says, “I leave everything to my spouse.”
But what happens if when they die, the spouse that they leave behind has Alzheimer’s?
Have they really protected them?
Have they provided for them?
How are they going to manage those funds?
How are they going to pay for their care now that they’ve lost their spouse?
You’ve got to think about the people you leave behind.
Whether that’s your spouse, whether that’s your kids.
You’re not just giving them stuff.
Your job here, just like Jesus felt that he needed to take care of his mother and provide for her, you need to be planning for the unexpected.
So that you can take care of those people that you leave behind, whether those are individuals or whether that’s society at large.
Number one, we’re not supposed to get so wrapped up in stuff, in our earthly possessions, in money.
But as people, that’s a weakness for many of us.
Whether it’s a weakness that we are insecure:
- in our possessions,
- in our financial security,
- or whether we spend too much
- or don’t plan appropriately with the resources we’re given.So that’s one lesson here is that stuff is not as important as the relationships that we have.
I think the other lesson here is planning ahead.
Don’t leave things to chance.
Don’t leave them unattended.
Don’t think that they’ll just work out.
It’s just not how it happens.
It’s not a good plan.
It’s one thing to hope and to pray for the best things in life.
And it’s okay to hope and pray for those things, but you plan for the rest of it.
You plan for the bad things to happen.
Even the things that you don’t think will happen, that you don’t want to happen, if you planned for those and they don’t happen, no big deal.
But if they do and you’ve anticipated it and planned for it, then there’s still no big deal.
And that’s the real benefit of all of this.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little look.
We’re attorneys, we’re not theologians.
But we do appreciate those aspects and those glimpses even in a Biblical text of situations where elder law issues, and inheritance, and taking care of the people you love are a part of that too.
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