End of Life Planning Brings Families Peace of Mind

More than 60 people gathered at Annunciation parish in Altamonte Springs for the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida’s presentation ‘Creating Your Catholic Legacy’ May 5, to learn the importance of making or updating wills and other estate planning.

More than 60 people gathered at Annunciation parish in Altamonte Springs for the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida’s presentation ‘Creating Your Catholic Legacy’ May 5, to learn the importance of making or updating wills and other estate planning.  

“The State has a plan for you and you may not like it,” advises Casey Schroder of the Catholic Foundation.  “Everyone over 18 years old should have a plan. You cannot plan when an emergency will arise, but you can be prepared.”

Keynote speaker, Steve C. Allender, an elder law attorney and parishioner at Most Precious Blood in Oviedo, addressed the various legal documents needed to ensure intentions are followed before and after death by family members, simplifying the process during what is often a very emotional time.  The differences between two important documents, the will and living trust, were outlined.  The living trust, which is similar to a will, allows someone to manage their assets during their lifetime, but upon death, the trustee has immediate authority.  In contrast, a will requires probate which can be costly and takes time to administer.

Allender suggested getting solid advice from an attorney that specializes in elder law, instead of using do-it-yourself methods than can lead to gaps in planning that could have unintended consequences and costs.

“Estate planning is not just for rich people,” says Allender.  “By establishing what you want before you become incapacitated, you gain peace of mind and it protects you from exorbitant attorney fees.” 

Attorney Allender discussed the importance of having a plan not only for death but when someone becomes unable to speak for him/herself, as in the case of incompetency or disability. For many, it came as a surprise to discover that just because one is married, a spouse does not have an automatic right to make decisions for the other partner. 

“If a spouse becomes incapacitated, you would not be able sell the house without a durable power of attorney,” says Allender, explaining that this pre-death document allows a spouse to make financial decisions on behalf of the other, so that the costs of guardianship can be avoided.  He also discussed the need to designate a health care surrogate to make medical decisions and a Catholic living will, which includes Catholic teaching on end of life issues. “Families can often differ when it comes to the care of a family member.  When there is conflict between opinions, it needs to be in writing; who will make decisions for you.”

In addition to planning for health and financial situations, the topic of charitable giving was also discussed.

“After your (immediate) family, remember your spiritual family,” says Schroder, who explained that people should consider leaving financial gifts to the charitable organizations close to their hearts. “You can designate a gift or an annuity to Catholic education, your parish, a favorite ministry, or to seminarians or retired priests.”

On their website, The Catholic Foundation of Central Florida Inc. explains that those who offer a planned gift to a parish, a Catholic school, or to any other ministry of the Diocese of Orlando is entitled to membership in the Vivos Christi Society. There is no minimum amount required.  Each year Bishop Noonan initiates and recognizes members at a special ceremony.

In addition to the financial part of preparing one’s legacy, Allender suggests leaving a legacy of faith and value for future generations. “Your life continues through your loved ones, in your values and traditions,” he says.  “You can leave a letter to loved ones; record your successes, mistakes, and what you learned.  Most importantly, tell them you love them while you are still alive.”