Categories: The Parish Column

Legacy Giving: The Key Documents, Part III

One of the main purposes of the Legacy Giving program at St. John’s is to help parishioners prepare for the major contingencies of life, including estate planning and provision for health and dependent care when you may not be in a position to make those decisions.

This is the third in a series of articles about the key documents that almost everyone, regardless of age or health, should prepare. I covered the durable power of attorney and the advanced medical directive in the previous two articles.

This article will cover the will, which is the cornerstone for most estate plans. A will, of course, distributes your assets to your loved ones and perhaps others, such as charitable organizations. If you have minor children, it is also the place where you indicate who should care for them if you and your spouse predecease them. In the will, you can name a person you trust to administer your will and assure that your wishes are implemented.

These can be very tough decisions so it is advisable to deal with them as soon as you can. This will give you time to gather your thoughts and identify your assets in an unstressed state of mind. For your assistance, attached is a questionnaire that will help you organize the documents you need and to identify issues that may arise. If you die without a will, those decisions will be made for you by a probate court pursuant to the criteria set forth in state law and, in the case of custody of minor children, based on potentially competing petitions by your heirs and subject to the court’s view of what is best for your child(ren).  

Surprisingly, surveys show that about 40% of adults do not have a will. This percentage is growing. Experts say there are several reasons for this. It can be hard to determine who should receive your assets and to identify a guardian if you have minor children. People also worry about the cost and time required to finalize a will. These concerns are, of course, understandable, but if you think it will be hard for you to reach those decisions, think how hard it will be for your heirs to discern your wishes and for a court that knows nothing about you personally to decide those questions. Without a will, there may be serious disagreements among your heirs, and the hard feelings that result may be very long lasting. This is neither kind nor fair to them, particularly as they are dealing with the grief of a loved one’s death.

As to cost, if your estate is not complicated, you may be able to use an online site to develop a will at little cost. And if you do have complex financial or other issues, a will is even more necessary.

If you would like to learn more about St. John’s Legacy Giving program or want to suggest a topic for a future article, please feel free contact us at