In the weeks following the birth of our first child, my wife and I had our will drawn up. Being in our early 30s, we had little in the way of material possessions, but we wanted to be certain that our son’s interests would be cared for. Several years later, when we purchased a new home (and with three kids in tow), we amended our will again to reflect guardianship and to ensure that our possessions would be distributed according to our wishes should something unfortunate happen to us.
Having a will drawn up is no big deal, yet surprisingly only 50 per cent of Canadians have one. In fact, most Canadians are hardly aware of the need to get one, and only do so when faced with situations such as an overseas trip or an unexpected illness.
If a person dies in Ontario without a will, the current law determines who is to receive 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 it meant to the individual during their 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 beneficiaries who are specifically named in a will, thus avoiding conflict between family members.
We are all familiar with the gifts we give to the Church through our weekly offering, pre-authorized giving or to 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 our lifetimes – assets such as real estate or stocks or life insurance. Gifts made from our accumulated assets are a wonderful way to encourage and expand the mission of the Church for generations to come.
Making a gift of encouragement – either in a will or while living – seems like a relatively new concept in the Church, but it is as old as the Church itself. In the New Testament, Acts 4 tells the story of a man named Joseph, a native of Cyprus, selling a field that belonged to him and giving the proceeds to the apostles for them to distribute the money as needed. The apostles gave Joseph a new name, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” in Hebrew.
Each one of us can be a son or daughter of encouragement through the gifts we leave for the Church to be distributed when we pass on.
Estate planning is something most people approach with apprehension because it forces us to consider intimate details of our lives with lawyers, financial planners, family members and sometimes our clergy. It is not easy to talk about end-of-life issues. Grappling with matters relating to our estate inclines us to confront our own mortality and, for most of us, myself included, it is something we would rather put off. But ultimately, we all must 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 of encouragement to your parish, the Diocese or to FaithWorks. 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. But more importantly, it will help sustain the good work you have supported over a lifetime and enable new ministry to flourish because of your generosity.