Relatively little of the wealth that will be inherited by baby boomers during the next few decades as the World War II generation passes from the American scene may wind up supporting local church causes, some experts project.

By conservative estimates, the estates of Americans born in the early part of this century are expected to transfer $7 trillion, much of that money going to their offspring.

"It's an astronomical amount," says Doris Gidney, a consultant for the current and deferred giving program of the United Methodist Church's Board of Global Ministries.

Increasingly, stewardship officials in church denominations are seeking a portion of this historic wealth transfer for church-related causes, and some efforts are bearing fruit.

"We are on a geometric curve with the amount of dollars coming to Presbyterian churches," says Larry Carr, president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation. "In our most guarded estimates, we wouldn't be surprised if the amount of dollars coming to Presbyterian causes exceeds $20 billion dollars over the next 20 years."

Carr says Presbyterian churches in 1982 reported receiving bequests of $25 million. By 1995, the figure had grown to $75 million.

A SLIVER OF THE PIE: But Carr says denominations are generally far behind other charitable causes in trying to gain a larger slice of this financial pie.

Carr says higher education is by far doing the best job at securing estate legacies, followed by not-for-profit health care. Religious and community-service organizations are way behind.

"The tragedy in this whole thing is that most denominations—if they're talking about this at all—are only talking about it in hushed voices," Carr says.

A few denominations are making organizational ...

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