Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Good Steward on a Tough Journey

Episode Resources

Check out My Legacy Planner.

Leslie Basham: In the wake of losing a spouse, handling your finances may be the last thing on your mind. Andrea Karsten says God’s Word is a guide to prepare us for times of crisis.

Andrea Karsten: I absolutely believe that there are some biblical financial principles that we can turn to—ideally before a life-defining moment happens, that we’ve given it thought prior to that time. But then knowing that there is this very solid biblical plan backing us up, the journey doesn’t have to be one of chaos and upheaval. Instead, it can be a process, a well-thought-out time period.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 201, for August 21, 2018. Yesterday we heard from three women who understand what it’s like to be left handling the family finances after the death of a loved one.

Karen Melby was left a widow when her husband went to be with the Lord in 2016 after a battle with leukemia. Lisa Hagenauer is an estate planning and probate attorney in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And Andrea Karsten is a financial advisor, also in Grand Rapids. Today they’re continuing a conversation with Nancy about the steps necessary to get your finances in better order.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You may have heard me talk over the years about my dad. I loved my dad! I’m the firstborn child, firstborn of seven. When my dad went to heaven, we all said, “We thought we were his favorite!” . . . but I’m sure I was. (laughter) No, we all think we were!

You’ve heard me talk about how the Lord took my dad to heaven on the weekend of my twenty-first birthday. So there were seven children, ages eight to twenty-one. My mother was forty years of age; my dad was fifty-three, dropped dead of a heart attack.

The Lord knew, in eternity past, that this day was coming when it did, but we had no clue! And how thankful I am that my dad had had the wisdom, the foresight, the discipline, the determination to make preparation in many areas—spiritually, emotionally, family-wise, financially. His will, his financial areas that were in place and there was a team of people to help my mother navigate those hard things that followed in terms of what to do with his business, etc.

As I look back on that period, of course there were a lot of tears, a huge sense of loss, but there was also a huge sense that God was our Protector. And the reason we were able to feel that was because our dad had done a good job of preparing for us to carry on. I’m so, so thankful for that!

But I’m realizing how few people are prepared to carry on in the loss of a mate (it’s specifically what we’re talking about today), and just changes in our life circumstances that are life-altering and how we need to be prepared.

And so that’s why I’m thrilled to have with me on the broadcast this week one long-time friend and two new friends. Karen Melby you have heard from before. Karen, you’ve been widowed now for . . .

Karen Melby: . . . just a little over two years.

Nancy: And we walked through that journey of Scott for two-and-a-half years of having leukemia—the seasons of thinking maybe there was going to be a cure, the cheering, being excited about good reports, and then when it came to it, at age fifty-six, he was gone.

Scott had prepared you and your five children in an amazing way spiritually, relationally, in their walk with the Lord, in what they knew mattered to him. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about that this week. But there were a lot of things you had ahead. How old were your kids at the time?

Karen: My children were from eighteen years old to twenty-eight years old, five children. Two were married. 

Nancy: Still in some really important seasons of life with launching them. So it wasn’t like you were a total empty-nester. You still had college and weddings and kids getting situated. We’re going to talk about some of the things that were important, and some of which you wish you would have discussed sooner.

I’m also glad that we have with us here today two women who care about this matter a lot. They’re also professionals, helping others in this area. Lisa Hagenauer is an estate planning and probate attorney. You’re married, you have three children, and this is an area you’re talking about with people all the time.

You're helping them think about things they might not even realize they need to think about. In fact, I saw a document here you had prepared for a seminar. I’m glad you gave a list of the terms with what they mean, because some of these words are like Greek to me!

Lisa Hagenauer: Right, and they are “Greek” to most people, for sure!

Nancy: We don’t have to become experts on all of this, but we need to know who to ask and how to get the right kind of help, and how to get the basic information. That’s one of things you do.

Lisa: It’s so important to know that, because it can be so intimidating for people. You don’t have to know it all, and you don’t have to figure it out. You just have to have the strength and the planning to reach out for the help and take it one step at a time. It’s very manageable if you do that.

Nancy: My hope is that, as a result of this series of conversations, every person that’s listening will ask, “Is there a next step I need to take in order to be in the place I need to be?” You may be in your thirties and single, you may have a lot of young children, you may be an older widow—a lot of different seasons of life represented.

Not everybody needs to do exactly the same thing at every season, but we hope that you’ll realize that it really matters to be prepared to carry on, particularly in the loss of a mate.

Andrea Karsten is with us. Andrea, you’re a financial advisor. You have two young people in your home: one grown and one almost out of the nest. Your husband’s a pastor. I love how you're thinking about this whole area. It would be true about all of us, but you’re the one who has said, emphasized to us that this is not a matter of learning to think like Wall Street—not to dis Wall Street. But your burden is helping people think biblically and in a Christ-like way to start with—not just end-of-life stuff, but what you do with it while you have it now. There’s a stewardship involved.

How do you encourage people to think about what it means to be a steward of the resources God has entrusted to us, be they few or many? How are we supposed to think about those resources?

Andrea: Well, thank you so much, Nancy. There is no doubt that God wants us to live and walk in the amazing gift of His peace. 

Nancy: I’m glad you said that! Because this is not something to be frantic about. 

Andrea: No.

Nancy: This is where we want to be led by the Spirit and have the peace of Christ. Actually thinking God’s way about our finances and using wisdom in our planning can help give us greater peace.

Andrea: Right, the plan and the process. I absolutely believe that there are some biblical financial principles that we can turn to—ideally before a life-defining moment happens, that we’ve given it thought prior to that time. But then knowing that there is this very solid biblical plan backing us up, the journey doesn’t have to be one of chaos and upheaval. Instead, it can be a process, a well-thought-out time period.

Nancy: But we’re not going to be in a good place when that comes if we haven’t been living wisely in advance of that. For example, and this is so basic, but the whole thing of choosing a lifestyle where we live within our means. That’s kind of a novel idea today, but it’s super-important, isn’t it?

Andrea: Right. We absolutely talk about even now, especially now, spending less than you earn.

Nancy: Okay, some people are hearing you, and they’re saying, “There’s no way I can do that! I earn so little—we earn so little. You’re telling me I’ve got to not have heavy debt, but you’re saying, 'Avoid debt!'” Why is that so important?

Andrea: Debt is one of those things where you are always presuming on the future. You’re presuming looking down the road. So if you’re taking out a thirty-year mortgage, or you’re taking out a line of credit, you’re presuming that you will have the ability in the future to pay that bill.

And of course, we don’t know the future. We don’t know what the future looks like. So we have to be cautious about how it is that we take on debt.

Nancy: So you’re not saying under no circumstances should you ever have a mortgage on your house. 

Andrea: Oh, by no means. No, debt here in America today is part of the fabric of how things are financed, how it is we purchase large things. So debt is not wrong, it’s not a sin, but debt is something to be cautious about . . . how much we put on our plate now.

Nancy: It can put us in bondage, which Proverbs tells us, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (22:7).

Andrea: Absolutely, yes. And so we have to be cautious about debt. Part of that just comes from making sure you have kind of a spending plan . . . or another word for that is “budget.” You know, know how the money is flowing through the household. That means we have to be involved in those spending decisions: how it is or what it is we put on a credit card, or how much we’re spending at the grocery store, on clothes for the children, or on education.

There are so many things that would take our money from us or that we would spend our money on.

Nancy: We don’t want to be spending every dime we have coming in, because then there’s no margin for emergencies.

Andrea: Yes, and we need capacity in that budget, absolutely, for future savings. Even before that, really, is this whole conversation about giving and giving generously and understanding truly that God does own it all! The peace of mind or the very different way of looking at this comes when we understand that we are stewards of His money, of His wealth.

Nancy: We’re not the owners; He’s the owner! And that’s kind of like a real starting place, isn’t it?

Andrea: It is. He’s the owner.

Nancy: I know, Karen, you and Scott (I’ve known you for years) that’s always been your mindset. You weren’t as prepared in some practical areas as you wish you had been when the Lord took Scott home, but you and Scott were on the same page for sure when it came to, “This is not ours; we’re just stewards. We want to honor the Lord and glorify Him.” You wanted to be generous. You guys are givers. You wanted God to be pleased because He’s the one who has entrusted this to you.

Karen: That’s absolutely right. In fact, we went through Crown Ministries as a young couple, and then Scott stayed in that ministry and served on the board. It was part of his fabric and it sprinkled down into our family, too. It was very much a part of how we lived and wanted to live.

What was interesting to me, in his death, was that I realized that I could not be a good steward going forward if I didn’t have a clue about how things were being handled. So he was able to manage how the money was handled; I was a part of that.

We had this woman who was helping us, but when it was all up to me, and I realized I was clueless in a lot of areas. It really hit home: “How can I be a good steward if I really don’t even know how things are operating?”

Nancy: So this is one of the first parts of a plan is to stop and to take stock and evaluate what are some of the kinds of things that you need to just become aware of—to “know the condition of your flocks,” as Scripture says (Prov. 27:23).

Karen: That’s absolutely it.

Nancy: I’ll let any of you chime in here. What are some specific areas that you need to make sure you are familiar with?

Lisa: I think that it’s really important to know, first, that everyone needs a plan, because a lot of people think they don’t. So first, know what that plan is. It’s so important, as Andrea says, to know what’s coming in and out of the household.

So many people will spend what they perceive to be their normal bills, but they really don’t know, at the end of the month: What is that costing? What is coming in? What is going out? So it’s really important before you start any of this, if you’re single, to sit down, and make sure you have a good handle of your own plan. If you’re married, to sit down with your spouse and say, “Okay, what do we have? Where is it? How do we access it?”

Nancy: When you say “it,” tell me what some of those things would be.

Lisa: So that would be any form of asset that you would have: 

  • Know where it is. Is it at a bank?
  • What type of asset is it? Is it a checking account? Is it a mutual fund?
  • Know how do I access it?
  • Who are the people that I can call?
  • If it’s online, what is the way that I go online to access it with my passwords and my user ID’s?

My mom, when my dad passed away, didn’t really even know where assets were, what they were, who held them, who those advisors were that she should turn to. And so getting a good idea of just the “lay of the land” and what you have is so important! It’s just the beginning.

Andrea: Lisa, I love the story of your mom, when you were trying to figure out your dad’s passwords! Can you share that?

Lisa: Yeah, it’s just so funny, because my dad had everything in order—other than really discussing it with my mom. We had encouraged them over the years, “You really have to sit down . . .” We knew a little bit about what was going on, but not to the extent. 

When my dad passed away, we started having to create this pathway and figure it all out. One of the things . . . we were trying to get online, and we did not know his password. And they said, “You can answer one of the security questions.” And so, one of the security questions was who his favorite actors was.

And we were going through them all: John Wayne, Rock Hudson . . . “C’mon, we can’t get this!” We never figured it out.

Nancy: Guesswork, here!

Lisa: And one of his accounts, it was actually his email account, they would not close it, because we never were able to successfully access the account to close it. And so we could have gone to court to do it if we wanted to, but the strange thing is, now that account just sits out there and every once in awhile I will get a spam email from my dad.

Nancy: Yeah, that’s hard, because the account can’t be closed.

Lisa: Yeah, such a strange feeling. So just those basic things that you think. You know, my Mom had no idea who that actor was. We still have not, to this day, figured it out! 

Nancy: The word picture that comes to my mind is, if you’re really familiar with the layout of your house, you’ve walked through it many times in the light; you know where things are, what you could trip over. Then when the power goes out, the lights go out—there’s a storm—you can find your way around, because there’s a familiarity there. 

I think a lot of us, when it comes to these practical areas of our finances, legal issues, these things, we didn’t get familiar with it when “the lights were on.” So then when the storm comes and the lights go out, we’re stumbling around and stubbing our toes and falling over things. This increases the tension and the intensity and the fear and the anxiety—especially for older people—because we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity while we were young and in our right minds.

Lisa: Right, it’s overwhelming. “Where do I even start!?” That’s what the thought process is. This is something we can teach our kids from a very young age, to start having that knowledge of different things going forward, too. I think it’s such an important thing.

They say that kids don’t know learn to balance checkbooks anymore. 

Nancy: “What are checkbooks?” Right? “We’re not writing checks!”

Lisa: Right. We have two eight-year-olds and a six-year-old, and we have jars on their wall. One is “Donate,” one is “Spend,” and one is “Save.” We talk about if they want a new toy: “Well, let’s talk about how much is in your 'Spend' jar. Do you really need it? Do you want to save it for something more important?”

And my six-year-old is like, “What am I saving for?”

“Well, someday you’re going to want to have a car, and you’re going to want to go to college.”

It’s something that we should start talking about really early on.

Nancy: How great to start that, preparing to carry on, starting with children!

Lisa: And I remember . . . It’s ironic, because my mom and my dad never discussed it, but my dad was fantastic when we were kids. He took us to the bank to deposit our money if we got it for our birthdays, and he would talk about how all of that worked.

I think I shared with the ladies a really funny story: When I went to law school, my dad had co-signed my loans. After I got out, he said, “Okay, we’re going to go to my local insurance guy and we’re going to get a life insurance policy on you because if something happens to you, I don’t want to be responsible for paying these debts back (because they were significant). I remember at twenty-five I think I would have been just thinking, Wow, that’s kind of cold! But it was so smart, and it made me think, Yes, he has helped me. My parents have helped me. I don’t want to leave them saddled with this if something happens to me. It really got me thinking, at a younger age, about the consequences and making sure you protect yourself and people, going forward.

Nancy: Lisa and Andrea, as you’ve taught on this, you’ve told people that they need to become aware of all their assets, their debt, their income, and their expenses. That’s just like getting the lay of the land, knowing where you are.

You’ve listed some of the specific things about passwords and accounts and what kinds they are and how you pay your bills, etc. Then you’ve talked about discussing your estate plan objectives. What does that look like, what does that mean? Especially if you’re thinking, I’m probably a long way from dying. Who knows? How should we think about estate plan objectives?

Andrea: Yes, that’s a really good question. When I refer clients to an attorney, clients will often say, “Oh, I’m uncomfortable with that. I don’t know what I want to do yet.” And I would say, “No, when you go and see an estate-planning attorney, they know you don’t know, and they’re absolutely going to walk with you through that process.”

Nancy: They’re going to help you figure that out.

Andrea: The best estate-planning attorneys are clearly those who know how to ask the best questions, how to get from the client what is most important to them.

Nancy: You need a team in place. This is where it get a little confusing for those of us who are lay people in this. Like: Who do I need? Who do Robert and I need? Who does some couple in their fifties or in forties, what kind of players do they need at the table?

I know, Karen, you’ve had to think this through fairly recently. Who are some of the players that you’re going to need to help you in this process?

Karen: Let me start with Scott’s best friend, Brian. Brian lives nearby. He and his wife, Chris, are dear friends. Brian and Scott would have conversations, and Scott had asked Brian, “Will you help Karen walk through this?” Brian said, “Yes, yes, Scott, we will take care of Karen. We will help her with all this.”

So after Scott passed away, Brian was there to also work with. We had a new life insurance guy. His name was Bob. We had a “Lisa” in our life, only this estate planning attorney’s name was also Bob.

Nancy: So you had two Bobs on the team. 

Karen: That’s exactly right, and then Brian helped me find an “Andrea” in my life, whose name is Bruce.

Nancy: All the “B’s.”

Karen: Right. I also had to find a new tax accountant. So I would say, just speaking as a widow, what was really helpful to me was to have a good friend that could help manage and put that team together, because I didn’t have the know-how.

I didn’t even know who I needed. I didn’t know what that team looked like. But Brian, Scott’s friend, is a businessman and was able to help me facilitate that. But the team involves: a good friend who’s kind of your liaison, a financial planner, a good estate planning attorney, and then an investment person—which is what you need if you have life insurance.

Nancy: Now, I can imagine some people listening, though, and thinking: I thought only millionaires need that kind of help! So help us out Lisa, Andrea. Average people, average jobs. I’m not saying you’re not average, Karen, but . . .) What do most of us need? What kind of people on the team?

Andrea: It’s so important, because I find, especially in West Michigan, I feel like all of us feel like our lives are simple, we try to live simply, for the most part. I run into a lot of people who feel like, “Well, I don’t really need a plan, you know? All my kids get along. We don’t have a lot.”

There’s various reasons why people feel like they don’t need a plan or they don’t need a team. I think the important thing is that: everybody does! It could be a simple plan. You might have a team with limited involvement in what you do.

Nancy: You’re not saying you hire these people to work for you the rest of your life.

Lisa: No. Right. You might meet with your accountant once or twice a year. You might set up some investment accounts or some 529 plans for your kids. You may not see your financial advisor often.

Nancy: So even if you don’t have a lot of money, you still should talk to a financial advisor?

Lisa: Absolutely! I think you should speak with each one of those professionals. Everyone needs to have a plan in place with an attorney, a financial advisor, an accountant, an insurance agent—those types of people.

It may be a very straightforward, simple plan that doesn’t need to be tweaked once you set it in place for an extended period of time. Or it may need to be, and you may not even realize why.

Nancy: Or you may have had some of those things in place years ago, as I did when I was single years ago. I had a will. But all of that needs to be updated when your life circumstances change.

Lisa: Yes, absolutely it’s important to realize and review that, if you’re married, with your spouse. Say, “Does this still work?” If there is a substantial change in your life or with the life of someone you love . . .

Nancy: Ages of your children?

Lisa: Right, or you have a child who develops a disability. That can affect planning. One of your people that you rely on, in your documents as your agent, passes away or their life becomes more challenging where they may not be able to serve in that role. All of those things are really important.

Nancy: Okay, I’m watching the clock now, and I just realized, we got on a roll there, and there’s more we’re going to talk about, but we’re going to close this conversation for today. I hope that this is challenging you to think about what you need to do to honor the Lord with the resources He has entrusted to you—because that’s what it’s all about.

Please join us tomorrow as we continue this conversation here on Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. She and her friends Karen, Andrea, and Lisa are helping us think through how to use our resources wisely. Maybe listening to this program, you realize it’s time you take the next steps needed to get your finances in better order.

As you’re making your a plan for the future, don’t neglect the important area of giving. Your estate could be used to support the ministries you love and provide tax benefits at the same time.

To help you think that through, we’re offering a free online resource to help you get started. It’s called My Legacy Planner, and you can get it at ReviveOurHearts.com. The planner will help you assess your personal situation and evaluate how giving to Revive Our Hearts or another ministry would affect your taxes and the amount left to your family. The My Legacy Planner is simple and easy to use. You’ll be done in ten minutes or less. Just go to ReviveOurHearts.com to use this free, confidential tool.

And you don’t have to wait to support Revive Our Hearts. When you donate any amount this week, we’d like to send you a devotional for widows. It’s called Hope for an Aching Heart by a previous guest on Revive Our Hearts, Margaret Nyman.

If this book speaks to your season of life, you’ll get hope and perspective from these biblically-based devotions, or maybe you know someone else who would be encouraged by it. Ask for Hope for an Aching Heart when you donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the book.

If you’re a widow, you know that you often feel vulnerable and alone. Karen Melby wants to offer you some hope.

Karen: If you are a widow, or you’re about to become a widow, if you cry out to the Lord He will come and He will take up His defense for you and help you.

Leslie: That’s tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to honor the Lord with the resources He’s entrusted to you. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion