Much of the modern world no longer follows Biblical requirements for leaving an inheritance. Deacons should be prepared to address this issue when asked by their members. Here are the basics…
We find a moral imperative to leave an inheritance explicitly stated for us in Proverbs:
“A good person leaves an inheritance for his grandchildren,
but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous person” (Proverbs 13:22).
For someone planning to leave an inheritance, several questions may occur to them. Some of them may be:
- Do I have to leave all my children an equal portion?
- Should I?
- If not, then how do I determine how much each receives?
- Am I required to leave an inheritance to a morally abhorrent or apostate child?
The Bible teaches that under normal circumstances, the child who takes on primary responsibility to care for their elderly parents should receive more than the other children. It calls this larger share the “double portion.” The size of the inheritance is based on how much responsibility each child takes. It also teaches that rebellious, morally reprobate children should be cut out of the inheritance. In his economic commentary on Deuteronomy, Dr. Gary North said this:
Then what remains of Deuteronomy’s inheritance law? Only the principle of proportionality. Of those assets bequeathed to the children, there should be a double portion for the heir who accepts primary responsibility for the care of the aged parents. If all of them accept equal responsibility, then all should inherit equal portions. Similarly, the son or daughter who abandons every aspect of this family obligation thereby abandons any moral claim on a share of the inheritance. In a biblical commonwealth, this would also mean abandoning a legal claim.Gary North, Inheritance and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Deuteronomy, p. 601
ASSIGNING THE DOUBLE PORTION
In cases where one child has agreed to become their parents’ designated primary caregiver, the parents should divide their inheritance into a number of portions that is one larger than the number of children they have. They should then assign one child a double portion.
For example, if leaving a $90,000 inheritance between two children when one has taken primary responsibility, parents should divide it into three portions: $90,000 ÷ 3 = $30,000. One child will get two portions: $60,000. The other child will get a single portion: $30,000.
The child who receives the double portion is the child who will take on more responsibility in their parents’ old age. The child who receives the double portion is the child who agrees to take on primary caretaking duties when their parents become infirm.
This is because Jesus makes it clear that people who take on greater responsibility should receive greater wealth commensurate to that greater responsibility:
“But that servant, the one having known the will of his master, and not having prepared or done according to his will, will be beaten with many blows. But the one who did not know, and did things that deserved blows will be beaten with few blows. But everyone to whom much has been given, from them much will be required, and to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be asked of him” (Luke 12:47-48).
This also means that if all the children agree to take on an equal amount of responsibility for caring for their parents when their parents get old, then all should receive an equal portion of the inheritance.
Inheritance is proportional to responsibility.
WHY A DOUBLE PORTION?
The principle of the double portion is contained within Deuteronomy:
“If a man has two wives and one is loved and the other is hated, and they have both borne him children—both the beloved wife and the hated wife—if the firstborn son is of her that is hated, then on the day that the man causes his sons to inherit what he possesses, he may not make the son of the beloved wife the firstborn before the son of the hated wife, the son who is actually the firstborn. Instead, he must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the hated wife, by giving him a double portion of all that he possesses; for that son is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn belongs to him” (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).
There are several aspects of this case law that are no longer binding in the New Covenant. Polygamy is no longer acceptable, first of all. Second, daughters are now eligible to receive the double portion because they, too, are baptized. In the Old Covenant, only sons received the covenant sign of circumcision. The land and seed laws that governed tribal territory and enforced tribal separation have been annulled with the change in the priesthood (Heb. 7:12) and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD.
But as Dr. North has written, what remains is the principle of proportionality. The first born son no longer automatically inherits either the double portion or the entire estate (as in the old primogeniture laws of Europe). Instead, “firstborn” is an ethical office, not a position granted by natural birth order.
DISINHERITING REBELLIOUS CHILDREN
God disinherits those who disobey Him. He also provides an inheritance to those who do obey Him. This is how His covenant works.
The Biblical covenant model consists of five points. Inheritance is the fifth point of the covenant:
- Transcendence, immanence, and sovereignty
- Hierarchy and representation
- Ethics and law
- Oath, sanctions, and judgement
- Succession and inheritance
God is sovereign over the world. He establishes covenants with mankind in general, with individuals, with families, with the church, and with the civil government. He created mankind to take dominion over creation on His behalf. Jesus Christ is our representative before God who stood in our place of judgement and bore our sins on the cross. God establishes the terms of His covenants, documented in His law and commandments–most notably the Ten Commandments. There are sanctions, positive and negative, for obeying or disobeying His commandments: blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The ultimate negative sanctions are Hell and the Lake of Fire. God’s people, on the other hand, enter Heaven first, and then the New Heavens and New Earth after the final judgement and resurrection.
Finally, God’s people, through His church, inherit the world. Just like the Canaanites who were conquered by the Israelites, the wealth of the wicked is given over to the Church in the New Heavens and New Earth. Christians will inherit the whole world.
The family covenant is one of the primary vehicles for inheriting and disinheriting over the generations. Families are obligated to disinherit their morally rebellious children. If they don’t, then they are subsidizing evil.
In this modern era, this is a hard lesson to teach and a hard lesson to learn. We usually only see movies or television shows where some evil, rich old man has decided to disinherit his upstanding children. In the modern social and political climate which promotes equality at all costs, “disinheritance” is seen as unfair–regardless of how terrible the child has been.
Biblical inheritance is based on faithfulness to God’s covenant. It’s based on children who keep the faith. Children who refuse to assist their parents in any way are moral reprobates. Such behavior runs counter to Biblical Christianity. The Apostle Paul explains that children have certain obligations to care for their parents:
“But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show honor in their own household, and to repay their parents, because this is pleasing to God….But if someone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:4,8)
Children who do not provide for their infirm parents have denied the faith. They should not receive any of the family inheritance. There should be a means to cut them back in if they return to their faith and repent, just as the Prodigal Son was able to return to his father. But unless they do repent, they should get nothing.
Deacons should be prepared to teach these Biblical principles of inheritance to parents in their congregation. The parents should teach these principles of Biblical inheritance to their children. This will set expectations early in life. It will remind the children that they are at risk of losing their inheritance if they violate the principles of the faith or apostatize.
Parents need to make this principle clear to their children. Before the parents are infirm, they should know which children have agreed to accept which burden. This is analogous to an insurance policy. The death benefits paid to the survivors are proportional to the premiums paid. The common Western practice of parents who refuse to talk about the size of the inheritance, the details of the will and the obligations of the children is biblically perverse. God has set forth this rule of inheritance: rewards are determined by performance. This rule applies to each man’s eternal inheritance, too. “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward” (I Cor. 3:12–14). “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7–8).North, Inheritance and Dominion, p. 602.
Families who work out old-age care in advance can keep more of their money and leave a bigger inheritance.
To do this, they will need to lean on each other, just as families have done for thousands of years, instead of turning to the welfare State. The welfare State does not cover all expenses. Medicare does not pay children to send their parents into nursing homes. Children can either decide to spend their inheritance by paying nursing homes to care for their aged parents, or else they can keep most of that money and care for their parents themselves.