A Bigger Perspective
What will a man be profited if he gains the whole world?
This web site is devoted to estate planning, and primarily to trusts. What is a revocable living trust? Or any other legal trust, for that matter?
What is a Trust?
In its simplest, traditional sense, a trust is a contractual relationship (a contract or agreement) between two people for the benefit of a third person. Usually we refer to the first two people as the TRUSTMAKER (or Settlor, Trustor, Grantor, among other legal names) and the TRUSTEE. These two enter into an agreement:
Trustmaker to Trustee: "Will you take title to certain property I give to you, act as the 'owner' of it but hold and manage it for the benefit of a third person according to the terms and conditions I tell you?"
Trustee responds: "I accept the property and agree to hold title to it and manage it for the benefit of the third party."
The third party is called the "BENEFICIARY" of the trust. That is the person who is to receive the benefits of the property: income, perhaps principal distributions, etc.
The Trustmaker is placing a lot of faith in the Trustee to do what the Trustmaker directs in the agreement, because the Trustmaker generally cannot go back and take the property away from the Trustee. Also, the Beneficiary is at the mercy of (has to 'trust' or have faith in) the Trustee, to some degree, since in many trusts the Trustee is given considerable discretion about how or when to provide benefits to the Beneficiary. Finally, the Trustee can extend some control out to the Beneficiary, allowing the Beneficiary to 'manage' some of the trust property under the oversight of the Trustee.
Note that the three parties to a trust--Trustmaker, Trustee and Beneficiary--don't have to actually be all different people.
A Trustmaker can be the Beneficiary of the trust, yet appoint a different person to be the Trustee.
Typical Revocable Living Trust
In a typical Revocable Living Trust, all three parties start out as the same person, and the contract--agreement--is revocable. It is a great planning tool, and effectively replaces a Power of Attorney to manage your property if you become disabled, and replaces a Will to direct where your property goes at death. It sounds kind of like this exchange:
John, Trustmaker, to John, Trustee: "Will you hold title to this property for the benefit of me [John, the Beneficiary] for as long as I [John] live?"
John, the Trustee, to John, the Trustmaker: "Sure, I'll hold title to this property under the terms of this trust agreement, for the benefit of me [John the Beneficiary], knowing that the Trustmaker can change the terms at any time, for any or no reason whatsoever."
John, Trustmaker, to John, Trustee: "If you, John the Trustee, become unable to serve as Trustee of this property, notify Mary that I have asked her to be the Trustee to continue holding title to, and managing, the property for me [John, the Beneficiary] for as long as I [John] live."
John, the Trustee, to John, the Trustmaker: "No problem. And if you change your mind about the choice of Mary, or anything else in this agreement for that matter, just let me know."
John, Trustmaker, to John, Trustee: "Upon my death, since I'll no longer be alive to be the Beneficiary, I am directing Mary to divide up the trust property for new Beneficiaries--my children. That's part of the agreement, and Mary will have to accept it on those terms or I have named someone else to replace her."
This conversation is the essence of the creation of a revocable living trust. While John is living, it doesn't require any real 'faith' or 'belief in' the Trustee at all, because he is appointing himself as the Trustee. But upon John's death, the trust becomes more like a traditional trust: someone else [Mary] takes charge of the property as Trustee for a third party, the children, as Beneficiaries.
What does the word 'trust' literally mean?
Feel free to look it up, but 'trust' has essentially the same meaning as putting faith in, or believing in someone or something. The Trustmaker is putting his confidence, belief, or faith in the Trustee to do what is right with the property 'entrusted' to him or her, to oversee or 'manage' it in the best interests of the Beneficiary.
The concept of trust is not new. And considering "trust" in context of death is not new, either. About 2000 years ago an extraordinary man walked around the middle east making some very radical statements and asking people to trust in, or believe, him: "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions."(1)
In the book of John alone, Jesus Christ tells those around him dozens of times to "believe in" (trust) him. He was totally preoccupied with getting people to listen to His message and believe it. And he did some absolutely inexplicable works, which demonstrated that He was more than just another man, and that the claims He made were believable.
Every person has some choices to make, one of which often is "Who do I trust?" There is one fact of life that we all face: death. Death is the equalizer of all. Whether your estate is large or small, you only get to enjoy it while you're living. No matter how successful you are or aren't, when you stop breathing your wealth is of no more value to you! You can do alot of planning, as we do at The Estate Planning Center, to make it worth something to your family, but that doesn't take care of your need.
What needs do we have when we die? We need to be at peace with God, since only He knows for each of us what follows our earthly death. The universe is too vast and complex--there must have been an intelligent Creator. Our origin and destination are uncertain. And when we approach and enter that last and greatest unknown--death--we need Something or Someone to trust. This begs the question, "is there anything beyond death?" Some people think that death is the end absolutely. Let's look at that.
What if death really is the end?
What if death really is the end? Let's say you do put your trust in Jesus; you believe what He said. You agree to put your life in His hands, to be "managed" by Him as you learn what He asks of you.
Believing and following the teachings of Jesus can't hurt anything. As a matter of fact, if you believe what and do as He said, it gives great peace of mind. It also provides for very rewarding interpersonal relationships, wise business judgment, a good balance of charity to help the less fortunate, healthy lifestyles and great families. So after living like that, you peacefully approach and face death ... but instead of entering into an eternal life of bliss, you just die. You won't even know you were "cheated" out of anything! So what have you lost? Nothing.
What if death is NOT the end?
What if death is not the end, but what Jesus said about eternal life IS true? Jesus said death isn't the end, but more like the beginning. "He who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die."(2) This life is something like a testing ground for the life which follows it and lasts forever. You go through life believing in Him, studying His life as revealed to us all in the Bible, and trying to align your life in every way possible to His character, believing Him to be the perfect example of what God expects of us.
Then when you come to death, He, in fact, has a place waiting for you as promised: "Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many dwelling places, if it were not so, I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you."(3) What have you gained? Eternal life!
On the other hand, if you consider His teachings and decide not to belive them, what happens? You don't trust Him, you reject His offer of eternal life--then you've lost everything and end up in eternal punishment.
Why should we Trust Jesus? What makes Him believable?
Jesus said some radical things, but He had alot of credibility for what He said: nobody else was (or is today, for that matter) able among many other things to heal the sick, raise the dead, turn water to wine and rise from the grave Himself.
Jesus' life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection were personally witnessed by hundreds, and some of the closest witnesses wrote about it in what we know as the gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament of the Bible. There are many other prophets or great men who claim to be the way to God, but none other provided the evidence of Jesus' life and then had people die for their belief in Him. Sure other religions have martyrs; those martyrs are dying for what they have been TOLD. But the early Christian martyrs died for the life and acts of Jesus they SAW FIRSTHAND.
Someone says "Well, Jesus was a great teacher or prophet, but not the Son of God." That is impossible. Why? Because He repeatedly said He was the Son of God, in fact, that He and God the Father were one.(4) If He was not, then He was a liar or lunatic to say so, and could not have been a great man or prophet.
Trusting Jesus is really a win-win situation. You've got eternal life to gain if He is trustworthy, and nothing valuable to lose even if His message were false.
How would one take advantage of this essential Trust?
How does one go about getting this kind of trust started? In a way it is like entering into a legal trust as we described earlier:
John, Trustmaker, to Jesus, Trustee: "Will you hold title to this life and soul for my benefit forever? I'll place you in control of it, to manage as you see fit."
Jesus, the Trustee, to John, the Trustmaker: "Sure, I'll hold title to this life and soul, for the benefit of you, John, as Beneficiary. I'll manage it in your absolute best interests, not only for your good while you're on the earth, but so as to make sure you end up living eternally with God in heaven. I've provided you a whole instruction book and will send my helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide you by your conscience. Follow my instructions and we'll keep this life and soul eternally safe."
Keep in mind that Jesus Himself said "How hard it is for for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God."(5) Read the whole story about the rich young ruler found in Mark 10, Luke 18 and Matthew 19. It is a story about someone who was self-sufficient and obeying the commandments to the letter. Jesus asked him to no longer trust in his riches, but to let go of material possessions and "follow Me."
If you need to be reminded of how foolish it is to trust in your material goods, read Luke 12 verses 13 - 21. When the rich man said to himself "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come, take your ease, eat, drink and be merry" God put it all in perspective with "you fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?"
Another time Jesus said "unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."(6) Jesus clearly points out that in order to have eternal life we must humble ourselves, take on the trusting nature of a little child, turning off the self-sufficiency mode, because when it comes to death and the grave, nobody is self-sufficient! We need supernatural help for an out-of-this-world problem.
Fortunately, He provided a way out of the dead end, something, or rather Someone, we could trust in. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus] that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him."(7)
Fountain of youth? Jesus also likened the new life that He gives when we trust in him to a well of water springing up inside us, that continues into eternal life. "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."(8)
He didn't say life would be easy for those who trust Him, and if we spend all our life scrambling to accumulate riches, He warned again of losing our soul. "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?"(9)
Yet He promised that our needs would be met. After cautioning against worrying about food and clothing and striving after material things, He said "seek for [God's] kingdom, and these things shall be added unto you."(10) He also promised great joy, and that we could abide in the Creator's love. "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (11) Don't you think when you place yourself into the jaws of death, not knowing what is on the other side, you'd rather know you have been abiding in God's love, and that you have availed yourself of the most credible death-cure known to man--trusting in Jesus?
Believing in Jesus is like creating a trust, in the legal sense. You as the Trustmaker agree to place your life and soul into the possession and control of Jesus, as Trustee, to manage it for the benefit of you, the Beneficiary. Since He and the Creator are one (Son and Father of the trinity) He has more understanding of how your life will be best managed to your ultimate benefit. You can take his word on it--you can trust Him.
Nobody really knows, when they first decide to put their trust in Jesus, exactly how that is going to change their life. One thing you can know: it changes your eternal destiny. But in this life and realm, "What am I going to have to give up? What am I going to have to do?" People wonder. This relationship of trust in Jesus is a growing, learning and developing experience. You decide you're placing Him in charge, and you'll do whatever He says because you believe that He won't do (or require of you) anything but what's good for you. (That's a pretty safe belief ... after all, His Father made you.) Then you start looking for and following His instructions: in the Bible, in good books, in church. As you learn more about Him and His character, make it part of you.
If God is anything, and He surely must be, He is profound and beyond our imagination. Making peace with Him before death seems like a pretty good idea to me. Jesus explains the most credible way to do it. The most important estate planning you can do, the eternal planning we all must do, and the trust needed to solve every person's most important problem, is the trust you enter when you entrust your life and soul to Jesus Christ.
If A. you find this web page informative, helpful, useful or thought-provoking, or B. you decide to put your trust in Jesus, or C. if you have suggestions for improvement of the page and information contained here, PLEASE E-MAIL US. We would like to hear from you. Thank you for reading.
Recommended reading or resources:
New Testament of the Bible (suggest New American Standard Version) (start with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to learn directly about Jesus)
How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
www.rzim.org (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries)
www.str.org (Stand To Reason, apologetics organization)
For a person who has put their Trust in Jesus:
New Testament of the Bible (suggest New American Standard Version) (move on into other books, including Romans, Galatians, etc.)
My Utmost For His Highest and other books by Oswald Chambers
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
(1) John 14:1
(2) John 11:25-26
(3) John 14:1-2
(4) John 10:30
(5) Mark 10:23, Luke 18:24 & Matt. 19:23
(6) Matthew 18:3-4
(7) John 3:16-17
(8) John 4:14
(9) Matt. 16:24-26
(10) Luke 12:31
(11) John 15:10-11