Program #0109 for Tuesday, August 9, 2011: Richard Ely

August 9, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Richard Ely, Director of Gift Planning for the Catholic Community Fund of the Archdiocese of Boston

Today’s topics: End of life planning as a way to pass on your values and render unto God

Summary of today’s show: Richard Ely joins Scot to discuss estate planning as a way to leave not just a financial legacy to support charity, but also as a spiritual exercise to pass on your values to the next generation, continue the work of corporal and spiritual works of mercy after our death and be a good steward of God’s gifts.

1st segment: Scot read the Gospel passage form Luke about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s and explained that to render is to give back. Scot welcomed Richard Ely to the show.

How long has Richard been helping institutions and individuals applying the logic of estate planning to charitable giving. Scot said in the Catholic context, how we put together and estate plan, it’s an indication of our values, to pass on our spiritual legacy in addition to a financial legacy.

In many cases, people treat their secular world as separate from our relationship with God, but to the extent that we can recognize that they aren’t separate makes our lives easier.

Scot said knowing the laws and regulations about our civil obligations is rendering unto Caesar. Richard said this has always been a meaningful Scripture passage for him. We tend to think that if we have good things, it’s due to our own hard work, but if something bad happens God is punishing us. But the reality is that everything we have are all gifts from God. We have many ways we can render unto God our gifts, including non-monetary talents like leadership, organizational ability, skills with hands, and so on.

Scot recalled a story from our show with Jim Orcutt from My Brother’s Keeper who told Scot about a woman who had nothing left but an apple, but gave thanks to God for what she had. We are blessed with so much, not just material things. When we try to take an inventory of our gifts, it’s amazing how grateful you can be. Just writing the names of all the people you love on a piece of paper as part of an inventory of your gifts in a formal estate planning situation can be extremely rewarding.

Richard said, it’s important to be grateful for the gifts from God.

2nd segment: Richard has initiated the Catholic Legacy Society, which helps Catholics benefit the Church through their estates for decades, if not centuries.

Scot asked Richard what the Church asks of us, when she asks us to be good stewards. We must receive God’s gifts gratefully. We must also cherish and tend those gifts in a responsible and accountable manner. Then we must share those gifts in justice and love. That’s not necessarily a fundraising pitch. It could be sharing those gifts wit hthe family. The fourth element is returning those gifts to the Lord with increase.

Scot said God has given us unique gifts. No two people in the world have ever received the same compilation of gifts from God. We’re called to appreciate those gifts as well.

Richard said it’s a recognition and mind-shift. It’s one thing to look at an IRA or house and know how much work when into acquiring those assets and to think, “I did that; nobody gave me that.” But it’s another thing to understand that those are gifts from God. That’s an important shift of thinking.

  • Psalm 116:12

How can I repay the LORD for all the good done for me?

Scot noted a verse from Psalm 116 he often sees on the wall of his parish church. We as Christians have been given an infinitely powerful gift of our own creation and our life. The only response to the love behind that gift is to love him back. God doesn’t just want money for the Church, but to give that love to others.

The next component is to cherish and tend those gifts. Richard said cherish occurs several times in Scripture in the context of family, friends, and life. We don’t just understand that these are gifts from God, but we embrace them like we embrace our friends and family. It’s more than just gratitude. Tending them responsibly and with accountability is a big part. There are people who misuse their gifts or fail to use them. But if we cherish the gifts, it’s easier to tend in a responsible and accountable manner.

In a gift planning context, tending means having the documents in order for the rendering to Caesar and rendering to God. If you fail to provide for the legal requirements, then the state steps in and makes decisions that have nothing to do with your own values or desires and obligation to cherish and tend.

Scot said he loves that the Church’s teaching includes the word “cherish,” which is to love so tenderly, just like a parent with a newborn infant. All of our gifts are given to us like our children to cherish and tend as if they were like our children to be raised.

The third component is sharing them in justice and love with others. Richard noted the parable of Jesus about not putting your light under a bushel basket. We can get self-indulgent and selfish about gifts, but this is an exhortation to share. Sometimes this is financial sharing to charities and the Church, but we also are called to do what we can to help family and friends. In fact, God may be calling us to share with our family primarily.

Scot said of the things were are called to share, money is way down the list after our own life, our love, our family. Richard said the mind-shift that occurs in our being mindful, cherishing, and tending brings us to naturally sharing.

The fourth component is returning the gifts we have tended with increase to God. Richard said this is the richest component of all of them. We end up with all of the discrete pieces of life, as in being spread out all over the table as it were. This component is about summing it up so that we have a sense of our life as a whole. Who am I and what am I, ultimately? A husband, father, property owner, a Christian, and so on.

Scot said returning with increase is doing everything I can so that others understand that I truly believe I am Catholic, that my family is stronger. At the end of my life, try every day to make my family, my friends stronger and better for my having been among them.

Richard said this process is a wonderful occasion for turning our lives around. We need to do this for the state anyway, so why don’t we use this as an opportunity for a better, deeper relationship with God.

3rd segment: Scot asked how to put all this into practice with later-life planning. Richard said is the endpoint of our life here, but is an entry life into eternal life with God. So in many ways we are defined by our death. So death too can be a gift.

So what do I do know to render unto Caesar and satisfy the requirements of the state? So this is where he starts talking about a will, a trust perhaps, a durable power of attorney, and a health-care proxy. Scot said we have to beware of thinking about this forever, studying it, talking about it, but failing to finally follow through before death. Richard has heard of cases where the completely drawn will is sitting on someone’s desk unsigned when they die. So the state says that you have left no direction for the disposition of your property and so the state then decides based on the law, which is usually in a manner that the person would not have wanted.

Richard said it’s also important to keep these documents up to date, reflecting the gifts you have now as opposed to what you had 15 years ago.

Scot said you can hire an attorney or estate planner, but there are even software packages that you use and then consult with an expert later.

Scot said through proper planning, whatever age you are, you can make plans not just for death,but for life. Richard said you can plan for death, but you can also plan how you can live until the end of life. There are stories of older people who get ill and become isolated and even start to despair. So how can we live until the end of life? Another situation is when we are alive, but no longer able to make decisions for ourselves: mental illness, dementia, comas, or paralysis, for example.

Scot said health-care proxy and durable power of attorney are important in these cases. Scot said it’s important to have a conversation with the person named in these documents as the proxy and attorney so they know your values and so they will do this as a gift back to you. Richard said there’s a common situation of an older husband or wife and one of the two have a severe case of dementia. While the other spouse works to care for the first, they eventually decide they can no longer for them and decide to sell the house and move into assisted living. But they find one needs the signature of the other to sell and now needs to go before the court to declare them the guardian for the other. A durable power of attorney circumvents that obstacle.

The health-care proxy will never be needed for many people who just die, but many people will linger. Richard noted his own circumstance when his mother had a stroke and he was called upon to make a decision on whether to take extraordinary steps to prolong her life. He didn’t want to make a decision to cause her to die, but they knew she didn’t want to be kept alive way longer than she would have wanted. Fortunately, she had a health-care proxy that had clear instructions. If not and Richard and his sister disagreed on what to do, it could have been very messy. Scot said the proxy can be a gift to the survivors to keep them from being put in a bad situation.

There was no question of their legal authority to make health-care decisions for their mother. To have one person to be able to speak to the doctors can be very useful.

Richard has co-written a book with Patricia Steward called “The Health Care Decision Guide for Catholics.” A second edition will be coming out soon.

4th segment: Richard said the example of Pope John Paul II in the end of his life was very inspiring. As the end of his life unfolded, he showed how to live until the moment that you die.

The spiritual part of preparing for death includes that understanding that we don’t know when that will be. Thus we have to be prepared both relationally (forgiving others) and legally. Scot said our documents reflect our response to God’s love.

Scot said it’s important for us to leave instructions about our death and burial. He related a story of a neighbor who was a daily communicant, his children had left the faith, but because he didn’t make provisions for it, he didn’t get a Catholic funeral.

Richard said it’s important for people to make preparations for receiving the Sacrament of the Sick. Many people still have the misconception that it’s only received when you’re at death’s door.

Scot brought up the concept of ethical wills, where we transfer our values, not just our valuables. It comes from the Jewish tradition, Jacob talking to his 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel, as well as Jesus’ last discourse to the 12 apostles, conveying to them the essence of his ministry.

Rich’s own ethical will instructs his sons to take care of their mother, to stay in touch with the rest of the family, that he’s proud of them; all kinds of things that you want to say. Others will say that education is important or other philosophical ideas. This is a key component is returning with increase to the Lord. All the documents are squared away, your understanding of your relationship with God is there, so now the ethical will is a place to sum it all up and pass that on.

Grandparents shouldn’t miss an opportunity to write a love letter to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren before their old enough to really appreciate what they have to say to them. Richard said anyone who does genealogy recognizes that when you go back a few generations, you know what people did, but not what they were about.

People can find out more about end of life planning by going to CatholicLegacySociety.org or email or call Richard at 627-779-3702. He often does presentations at parishes, especially for pastoral councils and finance councils.

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