Everyone, beginning at age 18 needs a will. As a matter of fact, they'd do well to maybe even have more than one. More about that and why we as clergy must speak out about wills in a moment.
Statistically speaking, 78% of Americans die without a will. Let that sink in for a moment. In a legal context, this is totally absurd. A traditional will speaks for us after our death so that our wishes may be known and followed. It is a legal document and as such carries legal standing in resolving matters of our estate (and much more). Why would any of us want to give up the legal empowerment that having a will provides?
Consider the benefits of having a will:
* A will yields our predetermined guidance and choices for how matters of our estate are directed after our death.
* A will speaks to who we determine will care for our minor children in the event of our death.
* A will makes for a much simpler settling of one's estate upon death.
* A will helps to greatly reduce or even eliminate animosity among family members and others believing they have ties or a stake to our estate or personal matters. In a way, it is a gift in reduced or eliminated conflict that we give to those we love.
Let's too consider why 78% of American adults currently don't have a will:
* They assume that they don't have much of an estate worth their having a will or that having a will isn't that important.
* They aren't aware that the state will settle the matters of their estate and the care of their minor children if they die without providing legal guidance with a will.
* They've never been on the other side of the legal process of setting the estate of someone who dies without a will.
* They feel that making a will will be difficult or costly.
* They don't want to think about their mortality and/or believe their death will be a long time from now.
* They don't like dealing with lawyers.
* They know they should get one but they are lazy.
There are plenty more reasons for and against getting a will, but the reasons for easily make the case for why EVERY adult should have a will. The reasons people don't get them are objections that are easy to poke holes into, especially as compared to the enormous benefits having a will provides.
The next question regards whether we as clergy should speak about the importance of wills with our parishioners. I believe the answer is yes, and for two big reasons.
Reason 1: Wills represent well thought through stewardship and provide care for loved ones long after one's passing.
This reason alone is sufficient enough to speak about, and champion to our parishioners, the need to get a will. There is a divine thought process, rooted in stewardship and relational love that is inherent in creating a will. Since we can't take anything with us and we care for those who survive after us, making a will really makes us think about what is most important in life. This endeavor is time well spent, especially as it invites us into holy moments of prayer and reflection.
Reason 2: Wills invite faithful and deep discernment for supporting God's work well beyond our earthly lifetimes.
Clergy, hear this reason well. If we believe in the work of ministry and celebrate how God is continuously at work in his creation, wouldn't it be wise to counsel and invite our parishioners to consider how they can continue to support God's ministry after their death? We need to directly ask our parishioners to remember the church and/or a variety of ministries in their wills. Yes, this is a bold ask, but what about it is inappropriate? God asks that we might have generous and eager hearts for ministry. Being intentional in the support of the church and ministries after our death through our estate is a beautiful way to generously support God's ongoing work well beyond our earthly lifetimes.
Consider Also: Living wills and the other related items we as clergy should speak about:
In addition to a will that legally represents our wishes after our death, we would do well to ask our parishioners to procure living wills (sometimes called health directives) and to consider legal documents like a health care power of attorney or even just a power of attorney.
A living will represents our wishes while we are still living if we should become incapacitated. As clergy we've likely seen the importance of a living will. When a person's life is being kept alive by artificial means, it is a great gift to a family to know what the person's wishes were as to what they would want to have done regarding their care. The living will takes this decision out of a loved one's hands (freeing them of such a difficult decision) and allows the person's predetermined wishes to be followed. There is a lot of peace that can come from a living will. Additionally, having a power of attorney (of whatever form) allows someone carefully chosen to represent and sign for us in we should be incapable of so doing ourselves. This gift can save needless challenging legal navigation such that instead, if needed, a trusted person can represent us as we faithfully have given them charge.
The reality is that many of our people would love some common sense guidance (especially from a faith perspective) regarding things like a will and other related and important end of life legal documents. We as clergy hold an enormous opportunity, dare I say calling, to help our people navigate these matters and to invite their careful spiritual discernment. We too can and should make an ongoing faithful request that parishioners remember their church and God's ministry in their estate planning. Statistically, 3/4ths of our church members don't have these simple legal documents in place. This is not acceptable. Clergy, we must speak up. If we don't, then who will?
P.s. There are now many online and inexpensive, or even free, means to make a will that will have legal standing. The more we can do to help eliminate the barriers that keep people from getting a will, the better. And this might be radical, but might we as churches even consider bringing in an attorney (either as a volunteer, if willing, or even compensate them as a church for their time) to help our people set aside what might be holding them back and take on this important work?
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About the Author
Hi, I'm Pastor Andrew, an ELCA pastor with a love for sharing empowering personal stewardship for fellow church leaders. I enjoy researching the financial wisdom of the scriptures and of fellow church leaders and I hope to share my findings in a way to help clergy of all types!