A visit with our Bishop: Time for a check-up

The doctor says it’s good to have a check-up at frequent intervals.
I think it’s also a good idea to “check up” regularly on another very important matter.
“Have I made a will?” “Is it up to date?”
Recently, I was talking to a brother priest who was involved in dealing with a family struggling over the situation of an individual in their family who died without a will.
This situation reminded me that I wanted to use one of my visits with you to discuss this matter again. So, here goes!

Why a will?

Each year six out of 10 Americans die without a will. Such people need to remember that their estate will be distributed under the supervision of the probate court according to state law.
They thus leave the disposition of their entire life’s savings to strangers.
Why is it that year after year, so many intelligent people die without making a will?
Perhaps the major reason is psychological — people hate to think that someday they will die.
But a will obviously does not hasten or delay death. It is just a way of making your own decisions about your own possessions, doing a final kindness to family and friends, and leaving things in good order as you do when leaving a room.
Someone has said that the unkindest thing you can do is to die without a will.

“My estate is too small.”

That objection to making a will is common, but not common sense.
Even when your assets are meager, they can mean very much to your family who may have extra needs at the time of your death.
Most of us are “worth more dead than alive” because of insurance, pension and other death benefits.
A modest estate should not be further depleted by expenses, which a will could have avoided.

“It costs too much to draw up a will.”

The answer to that statement is that the legal expense of settling your estate without a will will probably amount to several times the fee involved in preparing a will.
And that fee is little to pay for the peace of mind in knowing you have left your affairs in good order.
Knowing that you will not compound the sadness that your death will cause for your loved ones is worth such a minor expense many times over.
How can you put a price tag on that?

“I own everything jointly with my wife.”

So often a married couple agrees that they own “everything” jointly and so need no will.
Over and beyond the possibility that a couple could die together or a short time apart, there are often tax and other problems for the survivors that could have been prevented by a will.
Under many state inheritance laws, everything does not always go to the surviving spouse at death. When there are minor children, there are special problems in required court supervision, etc.
Some of these laws may seem troublesome, but they do provide some protection for survivors when the deceased has neglected the duty of a will.

“I let my spouse handle all these things.”

Today it is more important than ever for both the husband and wife to have their own will.
In so many families today, both spouses earn salaries, receive family inheritances, and often have wealth in their own right. So both spouses need to protect their assets and the interests of their families.
All this can be taken care of in a properly drawn will — whether an individual be single, married, widowed or divorced, with or without children.

“I made my will years ago, so I don’t have to worry.”

A will needs to be reviewed periodically.
A beneficiary or executor may be deceased; there may have been changes in the state probate laws; you may need to add or delete someone or something (perhaps simply through a codicil — an amendment to your present will).
An updating of your will may be very helpful now in saving many complications in the days ahead.

We can continue this discussion at our next visit. Meanwhile, I hope you are enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer.
To learn more about various charitable trusts and how they can benefit you and the Diocese of Jefferson City — your parishes, schools and Catholic Center ministries —call our Chancery Office at (573) 635-9127.

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