Does Watchtower Influence a Person’s Will?
In the wake of Prince’s death there has been a lot of discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Organization even held a private memorial service for the celebrity, which featured other high-profile guests. One subject popped up in several of the comment sections that I visited on articles about this event – does Watchtower influence a person to include them in their will? Let’s take a look at some of their own publications to answer this question.
“Show Appreciation for Jehovah’s Generosity”
If you visit their website and do a search for the topic, “Will” there are three references they provide relating to leaving your assets to them upon your death. The first is an article by this title from the Watchtower dated November 15, 2015. Here is what it says:
Wills and Trusts: Property or money may be bequeathed to an entity used by Jehovah’s Witnesses by means of a legally executed will or by specifying the entity as the beneficiary of a trust agreement. This arrangement may provide certain tax advantages.
As the term “charitable planning” implies, these types of donations typically require some planning on the part of the donor. To assist individuals desiring to benefit the worldwide work of Jehovah’s Witnesses through some form of charitable giving, a brochure entitled Charitable Planning to Benefit Kingdom Service Worldwide has been prepared in English and Spanish. The brochure was written to provide information on a variety of ways that gifts may be made now or later, such as through a bequest at death. The information covered in this brochure may not apply fully to your situation because of tax laws or other laws in your country. Hence, after reading the brochure, you should confer with your own legal or tax adviser. By using such methods of charitable giving, many have helped to support our religious and humanitarian activities worldwide and maximize tax benefits. If available in your country, the brochure may be obtained by requesting a copy from the secretary of the local congregation.
This article is all about giving them money or other valuable things like real estate. There are two red flags to notice here,
- This information is under a heading that suggests to the reader that doing this is how you show appreciation to God, by leaving your assets and finances to Watchtower after you die.
- They cite a reference work that is not available to the average person to read, a brochure. Any time they do this you should wonder what that reference says, they want Witnesses to refer to it but won’t put it where the public can see it.
What should be kept in mind if we want some or all of our assets to go to Jehovah’s organization upon our death?
This is the second reference that is cited on their website. It should be noted that this heading does not say, “…to go to Jehovah.” They make Jehovah (God), and the organization one and the same. This reference is a question box from the June 2012 Kingdom Ministry with this heading.
When humans die, they no longer have control over their material possessions. (Eccl. 9:5, 6) So in advance many execute a will or trust that explains their wishes for distributing their assets. (2 Ki. 20:1) This legal document generally also indicates whom the person wants to serve as the trustee or executor. If the document is not prepared, in many lands the authorities will determine how to distribute the deceased person’s assets. Therefore, if we have specific wishes regarding our assets, such as that some or all go to Jehovah’s organization, it is important that we execute a legal document to stipulate this and that we carefully choose the trustee or executor.
The trustee or executor has a heavy responsibility. Depending on the size of the estate, his assembling and then distributing assets can involve many details and can be time-consuming. In addition, the secular authorities often have guidelines that must be followed. Not everyone who is a member of the congregation would automatically be a good trustee or executor. The person we choose should be someone whom we know to be capable, trustworthy, and willing to follow our wishes. —See the article “The Wisdom and Benefits of Estate Planning,” in the December 8, 1998, issue of Awake!
Again, the same red flag is seen – reference to a work unavailable on their website. The article they cite in the Awake! magazine is, largely, pretty innocent. It seems to be genuinely helping you with regard to the subject matter without trying to sway you in terms of to whom to leave your assets. However, on page 27 of this Awake!, there is a footnote that reads:
For more information, please see the brochure Planned Giving to Benefit Kingdom Service Worldwide, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
This may seem like a different title than the brochure mentioned above but it is, in fact, the same one. It’s gone through many revisions. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of what a person may have seen in 1998 and I wish that I did. If any readers do have that version and are willing to share it, I’d love to see it.
At any rate, what we have done so far is investigated the first two references they provide on their website for this topic. Both, in the end, have inevitably pointed us to the same resource. So what does it say?
Charitable Planning to Benefit Kingdom Service Worldwide Brochure
This brochure is entirely about ways to give to the Watchtower organization and it has a great deal to say about wills. Within the first few pages for example, we find this short paragraph:
Because estate planning involves people and causes that a person cherishes, it may also be a deeply emotional process. For the same reason, it is well worth the effort.
This paragraph is very strange and if you’re not a Jehovah’s Witness you may not understand just how strange. Watchtower discourages Witnesses from giving to other organizations. For any Witnesses who may disagree with this statement and for further reading on the subject of such discouragement, I invite you to consider the article Jehovah’s Witnesses Endorse Charitable Works, As Long As They’re Performed By Someone Else. For the purposes of this discussion, lets return to the brochure.
Because Watchtower discourages Witnesses from giving to other charities, what cause do you think is left to which a Jehovah’s Witness may leave finances or assets? Only Watchtower.
It is neither the intention nor the desire of the Charitable Planning Office to solicit donations. Rather, we merely provide information to those who inquire about estate planning in which the organization may be involved.
The claim is made here that it’s not their intention to solicit donations. But they’ve already made the point that people often want to leave something to causes that they favor, and as we’ve discussed, for a Witness, there’s only one cause.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, “Solicit” means to, “…ask for or try to obtain (something) from someone.” The entire purpose of this document they’ve created is to try to obtain something from their members. They are, in fact, soliciting for assets. Consider this question: if this is not what they are doing, why would they include reference to this brochure in an article that was otherwise mostly about taking care of your family? By including that footnote in the Awake!, they have said far more about leaving to them than taking care of one’s own family. Why do I say that?
By including the reference to this brochure, they ensure that a Witness will read it. A well-trained Jehovah’s Witness would absolutely read that brochure. After all, for those of you who are not Witnesses, would you not read every piece of information provided by a trusted advisor on this topic if you were making these decisions? Sure you would, I know I would – it’s regular behavior to want to make an informed decision. Well Jehovah’s Witness are just like you and me. When they want to make a decision and are looking for information on Last Will and Testament – they go to someone they trust and they do research. Their research starts at Watchtower’s website and they will read everything they can find looking to make the right and good decision. So, when they look up these first two references under the topic, “Will” they will read the brochure. It’s an absolute guarantee, because they want to consider all their options, right?
But look at what’s happened, let’s put ourselves in their shoes and follow through the steps.
- We start completely ignorant of what we need to do, and we go looking for answers from a source we trust.
- That source provides us with all the information we need to make an informed decision and we trust that they would do this.
- We read it, all three references. The first two reference the brochure, we read the brochure as well.
Would we get more information about giving to Watchtower or looking out for our family? Can you not see how these individuals would feel obliged to include Watchtower in all of this? After all, it’s how they show appreciation to God, right? Every piece of information given to them by their source for all information, includes Watchtower as a beneficiary and clearly explains to them exactly how they can ensure giving the most possible without losing to taxes.
For an organization that doesn’t influence their members to include them in their will, they sure do mention it a lot in all their articles on the subject. But, you may have noticed that there’s one more reference we haven’t looked at. I was saving it for last.
“How Shall We Repay Jehovah?”
The third reference is to the Watchtower dated December 1, 1988. This Article is on page 25 of the magazine. It opens with a heading about what benefits have come from Jehovah. It spends the rest of its paragraphs discussing the ways you can repay him for these benefits. Among these are full-time service, and:
It is encouraging to read of the faithful determination of elderly ones who, though hoping to survive to the end of this system, make sure, by making an appropriate will, that the Kingdom work benefits in the event of their death…
This is followed by quotes of those remembering people who had done just this, referring to them as, “loving the kingdom” and as people who, “were very kind.” Wouldn’t you want to be remembered like this? How can it be said that this is not influencing a persons decision?
Watchtower is very interested in being in the will of every single Jehovah’s Witness. They make sure to solicit for it in every single article about the subject. The placement of the foot note in the 1998 Awake! magazine almost looks like an afterthought, like somebody genuinely wanted to help and then an editor read it and said, “What about Watchtower?” As a Jehovah’s Witness, it is impossible to get information about this topic that doesn’t include putting Watchtower in your will, why do you think that is?