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Catholic Estate Planning Lawyer

There are nearly 70 million Catholics living in America. That’s about one in every five Americans. Approximately 55% of these Catholics will die without a Will or any Estate Planning arrangements stipulating the importance of their religious values. That’s nearly 40 million Catholics! Catholic religious issues are too often overlooked in Estate Planning. Beyond leaving legacies to the Church, your local parish, a Catholic school, or ministry, there are many other Catholic Estate Planning considerations.

The legal aspects of Catholic Estate Planning include the following:

  • Letters of Instruction
  • Selection of Guardians and Fiduciaries
  • Charitable Giving, Planned Giving, Legacies, Bequests, and Financial Stewardship
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Living Wills and Health Care Proxies (including nutrition/hydration, pain relief, pregnancy, organ donation, Anointing of the Sick, and funeral provisions)

All the above aspects of Estate Planning can be tailored to Catholic values. Even small changes can make a tremendous impact to Catholics, their heirs, and the causes they believes in. 71% of Americans say having a well-crafted estate plan would help them feel like a better spouse or parent. Why spend your life building up and working towards financial freedom only to lose it later in life simply for lack of planning?

Worse yet, why should your wealth, large or small die with you, when it could serve your heirs and your Church, feeding, clothing, and sheltering the needy? Such waste! For Christians, Estate Planning may be the most important act of stewardship we will ever undertake.

Steps for Catholic Estate Planning

The following are steps you can take to start properly managing your estate. You can start all of these today.


  1. Determine the Priorities of your Estate Plan: What do you want? Do you want a steady income for life to provide for yourself, your spouse, and your dependent children? Do you want to fund a particular church parish, ministry, or Catholic school? Do you want to ensure the transfer belongings and assets to family and friends? Set up education accounts? Bless a ministry or organization? Or all the above?
  2. Organize your Financial Records: Gather and keep information on your employment data, bank accounts, insurance records, investment data, tax returns, wills, deeds, and titles to any property you own or are paying for. Keep all records in a safe and accessible place.
  3. Educate yourself: Read articles and books on financial planning and attend financial seminars. These can help you discover new and better ways to take care of all God has entrusted to you.
  4. Choose your Advisors: Choose an Estate Planning Attorney, CPA, Insurance Agent, and Financial Planner. Sometimes your church parish will have a list of recommended professionals. These may serve you at a discounted rate if your estate plan benefits the Church. If you are Catholic, you should strongly consider using the insurance products offered by the Knights of Columbus, given their strong financial reputation and commitment to Church teachings. Unlike the KCs, many insurance companies do not come close to honoring the Church’s values.
  5. Preserve your Estate: Review all the options for increasing, preserving, and transferring the assets of your estate. Consider tax-advantage vehicles which may be available to you, including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, or other tax-deferred growth opportunities. There are also many charitable trusts and annuities and other gift tools which can be used to create income, receive tax deductions, and transfer assets.
  6. Formulate a Plan: Put the Plan in Action. One way or another, everyone will have an Estate Plan when they pass away. You can either write it yourself. OR, the state will determine your plan for you by operation of the law. The Estate Plan you write is the only one which will distribute your assets according to your wishes.
  7. Review and Revise your Plans and Documents on a Regular Basis: Do this yearly or when major changes occur in your life. Major changes might include having a baby, changing your investment strategies, changing your giving priorities, etc.


Why Estate Planning Is Important

Estate planning isn’t just for the ultra-wealthy anybody with financial assets can benefit from ensuring their finances are properly taken care of after their death. There’s more to an estate plan than simply a will.  All of the following documents help ensure your assets are transferred seamlessly to your heirs upon your death. An important consideration is including provisions that allow your family members to access or control your assets if you become unable to while still alive.

To get you started on thinking about what you might need to include in your estate plan, here are five documents you should familiarize yourself with.

1. Last Will and Testament

This legal document is the foundation for a successful estate plan. After you embark on your estate planning journey, your attorney will recommend either a will-based estate plan or a trust-based estate plan. With a will-based estate plan, your last will and testament dictates the following:

  • Who will serve as the executor or personal representative of your estate? This person will be the one to settle your affairs after your death and ensure that the tenants of your will are being accurately followed and attended to.
  • What power your executor or personal representative will have and what they will be responsible for.
  • Who your beneficiaries will be and what each beneficiary will inherit. Your last will and testament also defines how and when your assets or property will be transferred to your desired beneficiaries.
  • Who will be the guardian of children who are minors?

2. Living Trust

Also known as a revocable living trust, this is a legal document created during your lifetime that allows for the transfer of assets into a trust for your beneficiaries without needing to go through probate court proceedings. There is no threshold asset size before one can create a living trust. However, it is utilized more frequently by individuals and families with large, complex estates and multiple beneficiaries. You will transfer property into the living trust but still be able to control and manage the assets while you’re alive. Upon your death, the trustee’s duty is to transfer assets to your beneficiaries according to your wishes. One of the advantages of a revocable living trust is it avoids the cumbersome and time-consuming process of probate.

3. Durable Power of Attorney (POA)

This legal document gives someone else, called your agent, the power to act on your behalf. You can name a primary agent, and then a backup agent if the primary is unable to serve. Spouses are often named as agents for each other. However, you are not limited to naming a spouse or family member as your agent. Being “durable” means that the agency continues even if you are incapacitated and unable to handle matters on your own. To contrast, a general POA would cease to be effective upon becoming incapacitated.

The Durable Power of Attorney can be effective immediately or “springing.” With a springing clause, the POA does not become effective until a medical doctor signs off that you are unable to manage your own affairs. You can give your agent limited authority for specific transactions, or broad authority. For example, the power could be to perform specific real estate transactions, or broad powers encompassing virtually all your financial affairs. You can revoke a durable POA at any time, but the POA ceases to be valid upon death.

4. Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA)

Similar to the Durable POA, you name another person to be your agent. You can name a primary agent, and then a backup agent if the primary is unable to serve. Whereas the Durable POA is focused on financial matters, this legal document is specifically related to healthcare decisions. Spouses are often named agents for each other, but you can name someone other than a spouse or family member. Whoever you select, make sure they are someone you have faith will be calm during a crisis, are capable of communicating with medical doctors and nurses, will stand up for you when you are unable to speak for yourself, and finally will honor your wishes even if they are not exactly what they would personally want. 

5. Living Will

Also known as an advanced healthcare directive, a living will is a legal document providing instructions for end-of-life care. A living will is sometimes confused with last will and testament, but each document serves different purposes. A living will spells out how life-sustaining medical treatment decisions should be made if you’re incapacitated and communicate them yourself. For example, if you were in a coma due to an auto accident and the doctors said there’s no chance you’ll ever recover, would you want to be kept alive by machines and feeding tubes? This is a decision you should make ahead of time, instead of leaving it up to your grieving family members.

Other Key Considerations

Having a taxable bank or investment account titled as Joint Tenant with Right of Survivor (JTWROS) will avoid probate when the first joint account holder dies. Whether the account is individual or JTWROS, adding a Pay on Death (POD) for bank accounts or Transfer on Death (TOD) for investment accounts will avoid probate.

For 401k plans, IRAs and life insurance, proper beneficiary designations can expeditiously provide for family and avoid probate. Please note: If you created or updated a will it is imperative to verify beneficiary designations are still accurate. The beneficiary name provided with the 401k, IRA or life insurance company takes precedence over the will. Beneficiaries are either primary or contingent. Primary beneficiaries receive the assets first, and contingent beneficiaries receive assets if the primary is deceased. For example, if a spouse is listed as 100% primary and a child as 100% contingent, the child will only receive if the spouse is deceased. Here’s a different scenario. What if I have two adult children listed as 50% primary, but one of the children predeceases? The surviving child would normally receive 100%. If you wanted to make sure a grandchild of the deceased child received his deceased parent’s assets you could add “Per Stirpes” to the beneficiary designation.


Working With an Estate Planning Attorney

What can an estate planning attorney do for you? These professionals are very familiar with the process of organizing and creating a plan that will play out at the time of a person’s death. This plan can be very helpful in accomplishing many of your goals. It can also help you to make sure that your wishes are not lost in the courts and that your desires are not misunderstood by your family. Due to the complex nature of things like wills and probate court, it is often best to work with an experienced lawyer who knows this particular field well. The laws in your state may be different than other states. Therefore, you need a local professional who can guide you through the process.

What They Can Do

The services you need from an estate planning attorney may be very basic or they may be very expansive. The goal is to sit down with these lawyers and to discuss your situation. You will likely be able to state what your goals are and what you would like to do to make them happen. It is important that you speak to a lawyer in advance of making decisions because state laws may limit some of the actions you can take. From that point, you may want to discuss some of the following options available to you through these lawyers.

  • Minimize your taxes: One of the ways these lawyers can help you is to minimize the amount of taxes your property has to pay out at the time of your death. If you do not set up some option for this, your heirs may be forced to sell some of your property to pay off the taxes.
  • Ensure your wishes are carried out: These lawyers can also help to set up trusts and other vehicles to help ensure that your property moves from your ownership to that of the person you desire it to be with through a trust. This can help to keep that property out of probate court.
  • You can ensure your family has the financial means to manage your death and any medical bills or needs you may have. Your attorneys can help you to make plans to protect your property through the use of life insurance policies.
  • You can use these professionals to draft a will. Use them to help you to transfer money into college funds for your children or grandchildren. Let them help you to make plans for your dependents in case you suffer an untimely demise. These are just some of the services an estate planning attorney can offer to you.

Estate Planning Probate - Keeping Estate Assets Out of Court

Estate planning probate is the legal process used to designate beneficiaries whom you wish to receive your assets in the event of your death. Many people postpone estate planning; especially when they are young and in good health. Unfortunately, death oftentimes arrives unannounced and can strike when you least expect it. Inadequate planning creates an enormous burden for your family and loved ones should you die unexpectedly.

 Estate planning probate generally requires the services of a qualified probate lawyer. This type of attorney specializes in estate planning and can assist in keeping estate assets out of probate. It is important to understand that everything you own is transferred to probate unless you have taken steps to avoid the process. Probate is the legal process used to validate your Will and ensure assets are transferred to rightful heirs.

 Probate laws are governed by each individual state. Financial assets and personal belongings can be gifted to anyone you choose. However, in most states, financial and real estate holdings are automatically transferred to your spouse. Assets held by unmarried decedents typically transfer to direct lineage relatives such as children, parents or siblings.

 When decedents do not engage in estate planning probate prior to their death, it is referred to as dying ‘intestate’, which means “without a Will”. A probate judge must designate an estate administrator to locate missing heirs and determine the rightful owners of your property.

 The probate process can be quite lengthy and can be prolonged for months or even years. Estate planning experts state the average probate case lasts for three years. During this time the estate is responsible for all expenses related to probate. These expenses can include paying mortgage payments, maintaining real estate, property taxes, and attorney fees. Assets held in probate depreciate with time. Add in all the costs associated with probate and estate assets can quickly be depleted; leaving little to nothing for the heirs. This can easily be avoided my executing a Last Will and Testament and establishing probate planning.

There are many simple techniques which can be established to keep assets out of probate. Estate planners can assist you in arranging transfer-on-death (TOD) and payable-on-death (POD) accounts; executing a Will; and all other aspects of estate planning. Depending on the size and value of your estate, probate lawyers might recommend establishing a living trust or irrevocable life insurance trust. Trusts are generally reserved for estates valued at $100,000 or more.

 By transferring assets to trusts, you can avoid probate altogether and maintain your privacy. Probate is a matter of public record; whereas trusts are private and are not submitted through the court system. Additionally, funds held in trusts are oftentimes exempt from taxation.

Estate planning is not difficult or expensive. All that is required is to legally document what you own and who you would like to give it to when you die, and the designation of a probate executor. The person appointed to this position should be good with money and someone you trust.

Estate planning probate is an ongoing process. Will and trusts should be updated on a regular basis to record changes in assets or to designate a different probate executor. Probate lawyers usually charge a nominal fee to update Wills and trusts. However, it is a small price to pay to ensure your loved ones are protected in the event of your death.

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