John and Cindy Helt’s Farm to Legacy

Article by John Helt

I grew up on a farm in Iowa. My father died long ago, at about the age I am now. My mother continued to live on the farm and derive her livelihood from the farm until 2012, reaching nearly 97 years of age. My sister and I then inherited the farm that had been in the family for more than a century. About half of the land in our mother’s estate was sold. I then bought out my sister’s half of the remaining acres. My cousin continued to farm the land, as he had for the many years since my father’s death. Income from this farmland has supplemented my UCC pension since my retirement.

My wife Cindy and I redid our estate planning around the time that my mother’s estate was settled, and more recently we have agreed that farmland in Iowa is not something that we want to leave behind for our three kids and their children. It is complicated enough at this distance for me to stay active enough in the operation to avoid becoming an absentee landlord. While I have enjoyed spending a week in spring and fall working alongside my cousin, this spring Cindy and I began to sell some of this land to neighbors. Now we are exploring how to invest the proceeds in a way that provides the kind of income that we were getting from the farm operation.

Andrew Warner and I began talking about this in late February. We talked about two options. A Charitable Gift Annuity would provide us with a defined benefit each year. Alternatively, income from a Charitable Remainder Trust would grow (hopefully) over time, though it could decline in an adverse market. I was involved with planned giving years ago when I did church relations work at Elmhurst College. I remembered how a charitable remainder trust allowed a college donor to make a significant gift while living and receive tax benefits and regular income from invested earnings, while directing the principal of the gift to the college upon the donor’s death. Such a planned gift was a nice alternative to leaving the college in his will. The donor got to enjoy the giving and an income from the gift while living, confident that the gift would benefit the college after his death.

Now Cindy and I are planning a gift that will provide us with income while we are living, and upon our deaths will support ministries that have been an important part of our lives. Our gift will be shared with the national UCC (the church family of our faith formation and marriage, my ordination, and places of service for 45 years), our Wisconsin Conference (our home for most of those years), Elmhurst College (where we met and to which I returned as chaplain), and Eden Seminary (that secured my place along the Elmhurst-Eden-Eternity path; I grew up in a UCC congregation with Evangelical Synod roots, with a century of “Triple E” pastors).

Although I will no longer “own” farmland in Iowa in a few more years, the legacy that my parents, grandparents and great grandparents sowed in those fields over more than a century will live on in the important work of the church and its institutions that nurtured our family.


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