Your faith can guide you in estate planning

By  Quentin Schesnuik, Catholic Register Special
  • November 1, 2012

What is the difference between a Catholic estate plan and a purely secular estate plan? The answer is simple: a Catholic estate plan is one that takes our Catholic faith into account when making decisions surrounding end-of-life issues.

Here are just a few examples of how our faith can come into effect:

o Living Wills — Power of Attorney (POA) for Personal Care: this allows us to appoint someone to make decisions for us with respect to life support, artificial feeding and other medical measures in the unfortunate event that we become incapacitated. When creating a POA for personal care we should do our best to ensure it adheres to Church teaching on end-of-life issues. Do your research before you see your lawyer so you can instruct him/ her properly as to what you are trying to achieve. If you have any questions, you can consult your priest, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI). CCBI is affiliated with the University of St. Michael’s College and seeks to promote and protect the dignity of the human person through ethics research and education in health care and the life sciences. The institute is a wonderful resource you can use to explore the Catholic Church’s position on everything from organ donation, assisted suicide and other end-of-life issues (

o Having a Funeral Mass: The sad truth is that there are many children who are no longer practising the faith. Many practising Catholics assume that when they pass away that non-practising family and friends will know to have a funeral Mass celebrated for them. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The best way to ensure that you have a funeral Mass is to make your wishes known.

o Masses in your Will: Many people don’t know this, but you can put it into your Will to have a Mass said for the repose of your soul. The Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto has the wording you can share with your lawyer.

o Using Catholic Advisors: Lawyers, accountants and financial advisors are kneeling in the pews beside us every Sunday and we just don’t know it. As Catholics, we are used to saying, “Peace be with you” and then leaving our parish as soon as Mass is over. The archdiocese of Toronto has spent the last five years building a list of advisors that you can access. If you would like assistance in finding a lawyer to help you with your Will and POA preparation, contact the Development Office.

o Estate Planning Checklists: Have you ever wished that you could find a simple tool to guide you through everything you need to do in your Will preparation and estate trustee selection? The archdiocese of Toronto has Will planning and estate trustees’ checklists that you can use. And best of all they were written with our Catholic faith in mind. Catholic action items include: suggesting that you put in your Will a request of the guardian of your children that they receive all of their sacraments as well as prompting your estate trustee to contact your parish when you pass away to request that they update the parish records. If you would like the checklists, contact the Development Office.

o Burial Preparations: In the early days of the Church we used to bury our dead in catacombs. As time went on, we began burying our dead beside our parishes — as is the case with the quaint country parishes we drive by in rural areas with small cemeteries beside them. As cities grew, parish burial was no longer feasible due to space constraints. We began to have centralized locations that serviced multiple parishes — as is the case today with Catholic Cemeteries. A Catholic cemetery is much more than just a geographical location. It is consecrated ground and in a very real sense, a part of our parish. It has been set aside for God. Have you pre-planned your funeral arrangements with Catholic Cemeteries? If not, consider contacting them. They can answer any questions you may have, including ones surrounding cremation.

o Where do we recognize Christ: An elderly woman once shared that when she was a little girl during the Great Depression her father lost his job just before Christmas. When Christmas day came, there was no dinner and no presents. This must have been very hard on her father. A knock came at the door and when her father answered it, there was a man with Christmas dinner and a shoebox gift for all the children. When she opened her shoebox she found a pair of red mitts inside. It was especially cold that winter and her exact words were that she thought they were a gift from heaven. She swore to herself that when the day came that she was able to give back to someone else, she would. It was at that moment that she recognized Christ.

All of us can ask ourselves where in our lives we have recognized Christ. It is a very personal question and one that is best left to prayer. Your Will could be your opportunity to make that gift you always wanted to, but never thought you could.

Perhaps you have been at your parish for over 30 years and want to remember your parish in your Will. Or perhaps there was a special priest who visited you or a loved one while sick and you want to honour that act of kindness with a gift to the seminary or The Shepherds’ Trust. You may want to help support people in need with a gift to ShareLife.

There is no right or wrong answer. Pray about where the Lord has touched you in your life and direct your gift there.

Ask God. He will never steer you wrong.

The Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto has a free Catholic estate planning kit as a service to parishioners. To receive yours call (416) 934-3411 or e-mail

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