In the weeks following the birth of our first child, my wife and I had our wills drawn up. Being in our early 30s, we had little in the way of material possessions but wanted to be certain that our son’s interests would be taken care of. His well-being was our top priority.
Having a will drawn up was no big deal, yet surprisingly only 50 per cent of Canadians have one. In fact, most Canadians are hardly aware of the need for one; many only get a will when they are faced with an overseas trip or unexpected illness.
If a person in Ontario dies without a will, the law determines who receives the accumulated assets and the amount of any inheritance. The distribution of assets may not necessarily coincide with the wishes of the deceased. For example, no gifts will be made to friends or the church or a favourite charity, no matter how much they meant to the individual during his or her lifetime. By making a will, an individual can choose their own beneficiaries, based on existing and potential financial needs as well as their relationships. Furthermore, items of sentimental value can be given to specific beneficiaries, thus avoiding conflict among family members.
We are all familiar with the gifts we give to the church through our weekly offering, pre-authorized giving or some other special offering or fundraiser. These gifts normally come from our current incomes. We are less familiar with the many ways we can give to the church and its ministry from the assets we have accumulated over the course of a lifetime – assets such as real estate, stocks or life insurance. Gifts made from our accumulated assets are called “legacy gifts,” and they are a wonderful way in which we can provide additional resources to expand the mission of the church for generations to come.
Legacy giving seems like a relatively new concept in the church, but it is actually as old as the church itself. In the New Testament, Acts 4 tells the story of a man named Joseph, a native of Cyprus who sold a field that belonged to him and gave the proceeds to the apostles for them to distribute as needed. The gift of land from Joseph’s assets is what we would call a living-legacy gift. The apostles gave Joseph a new name, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” in Hebrew.
Estate planning is something most people approach with apprehension because it forces us to consider the intimate details of our lives, often in dicussion with lawyers, financial planners, family members and sometimes our clergy. It is not easy to talk about end-of-life issues, especially the end of our own life. Grappling with matters related to our estate inclines us to confront our own mortality, and for most of us, myself included, it is something we’d rather put off. Ultimately, we all have to deal with the reality that life in this world comes to an end. As Christians, we believe that there is something beyond the here and now. Planning for how a lifetime of dreams, hopes and memories is properly distributed following our passing is an important part of the legacy we leave behind.
I urge you to make your will if you have not done so, or to review it if you have one. When you do, please consider a gift to your parish, the diocese or Faith- Works. Even a person of modest means often has a considerable estate, when property and insurance are considered. A gift to the church can also help reduce your taxes. More importantly, your gift will help sustain the good work you have supported over a lifetime and enable new ministry to flourish as a result of your generosity.