Confession time: Over the past decade, I’ve put far more effort into planning our family vacations than I have into planning for the important issues that will surround the end of my life. Each year, I’d plan trips with care, and each year, I’d again put off revising outdated estate plans. Sure, I felt a little guilty, but I did little to address the problem. Why? Simple: Like most people, I didn’t want to deal with death.
Death. The word itself makes us uncomfortable. As Catholics, we believe in the beautiful promise of eternal life, but it’s still a challenge to face the reality of our passing and properly plan for it.
You might wonder why end-of-life planning is so important for Catholics. For me, there are three reasons. First, all is a gift from God. Everything we are and everything we have was given to us by our heavenly Father. Second, we are stewards of God’s gifts. Our faith informs us that as stewards, we must take proper care of our gifts and use them for His greater glory. And finally, end-of-life planning is a precious gift to your family.
With these reasons in mind, my wife, Joan, and I recently updated our estate plan. Many things had changed in the years since we’d last done so. Our minor children had become adults. Some assets were improperly titled. Our wishes for advance directives had evolved, as had our charitable gift intentions. With the help of our attorney, Joan and I revised our plans to reflect our current situation: We retitled assets, considered our kids’ adult status, updated advance directives and provided for a greater share of our gifts to go back to the Church at the end of our lives.
In the process of making estate plan revisions, I addressed a couple important related issues. For the first time, I developed a written funeral plan. Deciding the readings, hymns and other details for my funeral Mass was difficult, but now Joan and the kids won’t be left guessing what Dad would have wanted. I also finally wrote “the letter” recommended by our attorney. My family now knows exactly where to find this letter when the time comes. When they read it, they’ll learn the location of my important documents and contact information for my professional advisors. They’ll get usernames and passwords, the location of the written funeral plan and the necessary details of the family’s assets. They’ll also see my final words of love and encouragement. The letter wasn’t easy to write, but I did it by remaining focused on Joan and the kids.
Why do I share these personal stories? To encourage you to engage in your own end-of-life planning. As good Catholic stewards, we need to plan. As responsible husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, we need to plan. Putting intentions in writing will make your passing easier for those you love.
When you develop or revise your end-of life plans for these reasons, you’ll likely get the added benefit of feeling a weight lift from your shoulders. I know I did. In fact, I’m very much looking forward to planning that next family vacation, guilt-free.
Guyol is president and CEO of the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri. He and his wife are parishioners of Immacolata Parish in Richmond Heights. He can be reached at (314) 918-2891 or