Plan now, save grief later

By  Arthur Peters, Catholic Register Special
  • November 10, 2023

Recently, I attended a meeting where the discussion turned to the matter of making your estate plan. The presenter noted that in doing so, your priorities should be family, charity and then the tax man.

While my wife and I have already prepared our Wills, the discussion got me thinking about how many people have not done so, and the implications of not having a Will when one passes away.

The reality is that none of us know when Our Lord will call us home. I’m sure that all of us can speak of someone that we know, or someone close to us is aware of, who passed away suddenly without any warning. For some it happens when they are younger, for others after a full life has been lived. In any case, if they did not have a Will prepared, one of their surviving closest relatives will be faced with the additional work of having to be appointed as an Estate Trustee without a Will and handle the tax implications of having no Will, where taxes will be the primary focus.

The Archdiocese of Toronto, through our Development Office, provides several resources that can assist parishioners with the process of making an estate plan. One of these is an estate planning seminar that we carry out in conjunction with Catholic Cemeteries. These sessions are offered to help Catholics to design an estate plan that is rooted in their faith. We provide an estate planning guide that parishioners can use as a resource to develop their plan, and Catholic Cemeteries speaks about planning for a Catholic funeral and burial. These information sessions are held both in person or virtually, and last about 90 minutes. 

We also provide a list of Catholic lawyers and professionals who can assist parishioners as they develop their plans. We will not recommend any one individual or firm, but rather provide a list of two or three advisors within the area that you reside. 

When you are preparing your Will, there will be a number of things that you may wish to consider — whether to leave an amount to relatives, make a charitable gift or designate a specific article/memento to be given to someone. These are items that can be reviewed when creating your plan and it is important to be very specific in doing so. For example, if you would like to bequeath a piece of art, be sure to identify the specific piece and also the name of the beneficiary — if you have two nephews named James, which one will be the recipient? A lawyer can provide guidance on how to address these issues as you are preparing your plan.

I speak from experience on these issues as I have been an executor three times, twice where a Will was in place, once without. In one instance, the deceased added a document to their Will which specifically spelled out which items were to be distributed and it was my role to do so. When my mother passed away suddenly and without a Will, I was responsible for arranging the funeral and subsequently her estate, which at the time went to my father (who was paralyzed and in the hospital) and then eventually was distributed after his passing. My aunt made a detailed Will which left instructions for everything, including an allocation for the executor’s fees, which helped to settle her estate in a timely fashion. Her estate plan was prepared in a tax smart manner, which ensured that the amount paid to the government in estate taxes was minimized.

I hope that this article helps provide some thoughts to reflect on if you have not prepared your estate plan. I can assure you that one of the greatest gifts you can leave your relatives is a complete plan, which includes planning your burial arrangements.  Your efforts while you are here on Earth will be appreciated by your loved ones as they prepare for life after your passing. By doing so, you will also ensure that the priorities listed at the beginning of this article are dealt with in that order.

If our office can be of assistance at any time to help you with this, please contact the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto at (416) 934-3400 or development@archtoronto.org.

(Peters is executive director of ShareLife and director of development at the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.