Estate Planning

TORONTO  - Struggling with parish finances, Fr. Joseph Tap Van Tran needed money for restorations at St. Cecilia’s Church in Toronto’s west end. His prayers were answered through substantial bequests from various parishioners totalling approximately $800,000.

Due to this generosity, the parish is getting a new roof along with exterior work, such as brick work on external walls, stone work around the windows and restoration of the front stairs.

Nestled between houses near High Park Avenue in the Junction, the church is immersed in scaffolding, a testament to the help of bequests.

“It’s a blessing that we got the donations,” said Tran, pastor at St. Cecilia’s Church and The Mission of the Vietnamese Martyrs, a community that shares the parish.

“St. Cecilia’s is not a rich parish. The financial resources are very limited. We would not be able to repair the roof, which is a major renovation, but with the money from the bequests we are able to do it.”

One particularly large bequest came in the form of a house, along with all of its contents, said Tran. Everything was sold and the funds are being given to the parish.

Upon hearing about the large bequests from members of the community, Tran said he felt joy and a strong sense of thankfulness to both God and the donors.

“As Catholics, we know the church is the house of God,” he said. “It’s the place we experience God’s love and experience His presence in a special way.”

Established in 1895, St. Cecilia’s is a fairly old parish, said Quentin Schesnuick, manager of planning giving and personal gifts at ShareLife.

For parishes that need major work done, bequests can go a long way.

“You get a few gifts in your will and what happens is the parishes can go ahead and do the projects and (renovations) to repair the parishes for the next generation,” he said.

Pre-plan dividing up your estate to avoid problems


Make sure special items go to the person to whom it means the most

A funeral is a time that should bring people together, not drive them apart. Unfortunately we have all heard sad stories about how arguments occur while people are grieving. It is especially sad when the arguments are over material possessions of the person who has passed away, over who should get what.

We all have something that reminds us of a loved one. Perhaps it is a special broach that grandma loved, a weathered ring that reminds us of our father’s strong oversized hands, a dining room table that the family always used on special occasions or a gold necklace that our mother wore every day.

Attachments don’t always have to be logical, except of course to the person who has the attachment. A parishioner, who we’ll call John, once told me that he had a special attachment to a juice container. His mother had the same juice container for more than 30 years. Every day during his childhood he had a glass of juice out of that container. Eventually he got older and moved away from home to start his own family. But the juice container remained. And every time he returned to visit his parents he would open the fridge and pour a glass of juice out of that same container. It reminded him, perhaps in an unconscious way, of his childhood.

One day, John went home, opened the fridge and saw right away that the juice container was gone. He asked his mother, “Where is the juice container?’

His mother replied, “Oh that old thing? Your sister wanted it, so I gave it to her.”

John’s immediate reaction was one of annoyance. He felt that a wrong had been done to him. Why should she get the juice container? And while he didn’t let his mother know, John must have revisited that annoyance every time he visited his sister’s home and got something out of the fridge.

If John could get emotional over a piece of plastic at a time when he was level-headed, imagine what could happen if a similar event occurred during an emotional time — such as during a funeral. All it would take is one careless word during a difficult time and a relationship could be strained — or worse — damaged.

Spare your loved ones this.

One way you can help is to consider asking each family member if there is something of yours that they are especially attached to. Wait until the moment is right and then ask the question simply and plainly. If siblings both name the same item, then ask if there is something else that means a lot to them.

Once you have gathered all the information, and when everyone is together, have a conversation to share with them on which specific items you intend to give to whom. This way everything is out in the open. Of course you do not want to start dividing up all of your possessions, just those few special items that mean something to each loved one.

And keep the conversation light. Ask why they like the item so much. Who knows, perhaps some good memories will surface and you will share a few laughs as you reminisce about good times. And you may learn something you never knew before.

Gifts in kind are sometimes not so kind


Grandpa’s stamp collection, your first car, a box of beat up old coins, a comic collection from the 1980s, crystal figurines in a living room glass display, a really old pocket watch and great Aunt Betsy’s tarnished tea set all have one thing in common…

The owners usually believe their items are worth more than they really are.

Chances are we have all imagined having the “big win” that we occasionally see on TV shows like Antiques Road Show. Especially when we have invested time into collecting something we care about. We naturally think that others will recognize the same value we place in it.

One gift I especially remember handling for the archdiocese of Toronto was from a parishioner who was gifting to their parish a mid-1990s Jaguar. The car was beautiful. It really was. It had only 74,000 kms, was driven in the summer and for the most part was stored indoors for the winter. The person donating it was the first owner. The car had never been in an accident and the interior was immaculate. The donor was in his late 70s, had all the servicing records and took really good care of it. He had moved into a condo downtown and no longer wanted to drive.

For various reasons we had to sell the vehicle to a dealer. We got $3,500. And while the donor did not mind (he knew well in advance), I must admit that if it were not for that pesky little thing called “a conflict of interest,” I would have bought the car.

The best part of the transaction was when the dealer who was buying the Jaguar told me to call him right away if I ever got a hold of a mid-1990s Volkswagen Jetta that ran on diesel. It seems construction people really like them because the same diesel that goes into the equipment can go into the car. We could expect to fetch a few thousand more for the Jetta than what we got for the Jaguar.

It can be a hard, cold world.

Another interesting gift was a collection of old stamps. There were two big books of them. They looked very old and really valuable. Using a contact in the numismatics and stamp collecting world, we were able get the collection into an auction. The collection fetched less than $500. The dealer who facilitated the sale told me that if we ever got a hold of some Chinese stamps that depicted the Cultural Revolution to give him a call as they are “hot.” It seems there are some wealthy Chinese business persons who like to use stamps to diversify their wealth.

The key to valuating a donation for gift in kind purposes is not what we believe the item is worth, or even what an insurance appraisal says it’s worth, but what the item is worth in a free and open fair market. The Canada Revenue Agency sets a guideline surrounding this. If a gift in kind is made, either in life or through a Will, the tax receipt will be for the fair market value. A good example is a diamond ring. While there may be an appraisal for insurance purposes that says it’s worth $10,000, if potential buyers on a free and open market are only willing to pay $5,700, then the tax receipt will be for $5,700. This is the fair market value.

There is a way that you can check to see what your gift in kind may be worth for receipting purposes. Try going onto or and watch an online auction to see what it (or a very similar item) sells for. Do this a few times, average the amount, and then you will have a pretty good idea as to what you can expect your tax receipt to be.

If you don’t like what you see (or do like what you see) consider keeping the item in your family. An old Coke machine in the basement or a well-framed Olympic pin collection may look better in a family members’ basement than a tax receipt for a few hundred dollars.

But who knows? Perhaps you do have the special item that is one of a kind. I once handled a painting that sold in auction in London, England, for more than $100,000. I knew we were on to something when three people showed up to see the painting with white gloves and an ultraviolet light.

One never knows!

(Schesnuik is the Manager of Planned Giving and Personal Gifts for the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

Every bequest is appreciated


TORONTO - Quentin Schesnuik was visiting St. Cecilia’s Church for an estate planning presentation when he spotted a little girl giving a leaf to the pastor. Fr. Joseph Tap Van Tran thanked her for the leaf, blessed her and kept the gift.

“At the moment she gave it to him, she meant it with all sincerity,” said Schesnuik, manager of planned giving and personal gifts for ShareLife, the charitable fundraising arm of the archdiocese of Toronto.

Similarly, whenever somebody puts the Church in their will, they should mirror this sincerity, he said.

“At the end of the day, it should be about how you make that gift… A lot of times people use their will to make the gift they always wanted to in life but just never thought they could.”

Any gift left to ShareLife in a will is turned into cash which lands in the ShareLife Legacy for Life Endowment Fund, said Schesnuik.

“An endowment is an investment that’s set aside for the long-term support of ShareLife,” he said. “Within the endowment, the principle is protected… And the principle is used to generate income to fund ShareLife programs.”
As the endowment grows, it strengthens the ShareLife allocations as a whole, he adds.

“The income that the endowment generates goes into general funding, so in a very real sense, the money is used to help fund all ShareLife agencies and grant recipients.”

The endowment fund currently sits at $2.8 million. Last year, it generated about $80,000 in income, said Schesnuik.

“Sometimes you could have a will where someone says, ‘I have a Harley Davidson and I want it to go to ShareLife.’ In that case, the estate trustee would contact us and we’d work with them, take possession of the Harley Davidson, sell it and use the proceeds to put in the endowment.”

When a person decides they’d like to donate to ShareLife, their lawyer contacts ShareLife and asks for their legal title, said Schesnuik.

“Knowing the proper legal title is really important because the law is all about language and the interpretation of language,” he said. By knowing this, the lawyer knows exactly where to direct the funds. ShareLife’s legal title is The ShareLife Trust.

One hundred per cent of the proceeds bequeathed to ShareLife support ShareLife, adds Schesnuik.

But your estate doesn’t just mean your house, it means your total assets.

“It’s your assets minus your liabilities,” said Schesnuik. “If somebody has more liabilities than assets, there won’t be anything left to distribute.”

He emphasizes that it’s not necessarily about the amount left behind.

“God loves a cheerful giver, and so, it’s in that spirit I think that person should make a cheerful gift.”

Shepherd’s Trust cares for the priests that cared for us


TORONTO - A stack of Monopoly money sits on Marisa Rogucki’s desk, but she isn’t preparing for board game domination. Rogucki plans on taking the colourful bills to one of her clients, an elderly priest suffering from dementia.

When he was younger, the priest would carry money in his pocket, readily available to be given to those he thought were more in need than himself, said Rogucki.

“At this point in his life, he can only remember things that he has done in the past.”

So now, to provide him with a sense of security in the long-term care facility where he resides, she’s bringing the priest the fake money so that he may share it with the staff and residents at the facility.

“It might actually make him feel a little bit better about himself because now he doesn’t have any money in his pocket,” she said.

As the priest’s power of attorney, Rogucki “tries as much as possible to give him a semblance of a life that he’s had before.” Rogucki co-ordinates the care of the 83 retired priests under the The Shepherds’ Trust, a retirement fund for priests of the archdiocese of Toronto. According to Rogucki, the plan is for the fund to be self-sufficient within seven to eight years.

“This money will protect those retired now and those in the future for whatever they may need, whether it’s housing (or) health care,” she said.

“My role as co-ordinator for the retired priests, for the archdiocese, is to care for their well-being, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.”

Rogucki has power of attorney for priests when they have no family or no family close by. She’s been taking care of priests up to and at the time of their death for the past eight years. About six years ago, she recalls her first death experience with one of the priests. Rogucki was travelling back and forth to his home.

“We had just finished saying the rosary when he passed away. We all watched him just take his last breath,” she said. “Having had the opportunity to be by his side was very momentous, was very touching, something that I’ll never forget.”

But priests are living longer, says Msgr. Ken Robitaille.

“It’s important to always tell people that priests never retire,” he said. “We’re priests for life.”

Robitaille was ordained at age 23 and retired in 2001. When priests retire, he said, they leave behind administration work. If they’re healthy enough, they will continue to do parish work, like helping out on weekends, which Robitaille has been doing for years.

The monsignor, now 82, lives on his own and receives a monthly pension from The Shepherds’ Trust, but the organization is much more than a distributor of cheques. The trust keeps track of all the retired priests’ needs. It also helps priests find homes. There is no specific Shepherds’ Trust residence, so priests can live in different locations across the city and Canada or move back to their homelands. Some live with family or in facilities that care for those who need extra help.

In Robitaille’s case, he lives in his own apartment.

“Marisa helps us to find a place when we retire, nursing homes and things like that,” he said. “I’m looking after myself, but it’s more and more difficult because I have arthritis now.”

Robitaille remembers a time years ago when there was no retirement support system and no pension fund for priests.

“Before the (Second) Vatican Council, priests didn’t retire, they stayed on in the rectory until they died,” he said, because there was nowhere else to go. Younger, healthier priests would run the parish.

“But after the Vatican Council, two things happened: priests are living longer and then all the social systems have changed with pensions and health plans,” said Robitaille. “Also after the Vatican Council, all priests and bishops had to retire at the age of 75.”

The Shepherds’ Trust money goes directly to the diocesan priests, “and they are responsible for their own needs, whether it’s clothing or housing,” Rogucki said. For their religious order counterparts, the monies raised from religious order parishes is sent to their respective orders for their care.

“We are happy the way we are cared for. And we are grateful for what the people give every year in The Shepherds’ Trust collection to maintain this retirement fund,” said Robitaille.

“Fifty years ago, we didn’t have enough money to save. We weren’t making enough money to become part of the Canada Pension Plan.”

Robitaille wants the laity within the diocese to know “that their priests are happy and being well taken care of.” And as for the younger priests coming into the priesthood, Robitaille said they can expect to be taken care of with a health plan and pension in their senior years.

Still, when asked why people should donate, a question Rogucki has been asked many times over the years, she asks a question in return. “Who is the Church?” Her answer: “We are the Church.”

Catholics look to priests during baptisms, communion, confirmation, marriage and death, she said.

“So we have to put back into the Church what we got out of it when we needed it.”

Being with the priests makes Rogucki happy. She organizes monthly luncheons and help for the priests for everyday things, including setting up utility bills and the Internet.

Your faith can guide you in estate planning


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