Many parishes have no idea who has a bequest in their will for the church. In my experience, this is indeed the case and we have been working toward reversing that trend. There are many reasons for this mostly around privacy issues and the desire to keep wills and “what’s in them” a secret. There was one donor who showed me his will, but in order to see it, I had to cut through massive amounts of scotch tape. In this case, it was fortunate that I did see the will because there were many concerns. I was able to refer this man to a lawyer who drafted a legal document which satisfied him. Ultimately, that new will held up when he passed several years later.
We in the church have been somewhat slow to encourage our faithful parishioners to get a legal will and to prayerfully consider leaving a bequest for one of our ministries. Other churches have been doing it for decades. One of the goals on my ministry has been to raise the awareness about planned giving and to encourage our parishioners to seriously consider leaving something in their will for their church.
In the first few months of my employment, I encountered a couple who shared with me that they had wills and were leaving something to their parish. I asked if the rector knew about this. Their response was, “No. Why would he want to know?”
I answered, “Well, if he knew about your bequest, he would want to thank you privately and tell you how much it is appreciated. Furthermore, he might want to use the occasion to let his parishioners know that someone has a bequest for the church which might encourage others to consider doing the same.”
Another issue that might be resolved by knowing about the designation of the bequest: how will it be used? Is it designated for the building, or the cemetery, or is it directed at one of the outreach ministries? Good questions and ones that can be answered if the rector knows about your intentions ahead of time.
A number of years ago, a sizeable bequest came out of the blue for the diocese, and the bishop at the time and I met with the executor to iron out details. It worked out eventually, but not before we had some serious soul searching and debate with the executor, who incidentally had the final say in this process. It would have been nice if we had known about this bequest before the donor’s death, and what her intentions were.
Finally, I have often told the story about the parishioner in Gander who had made a generous planned gift for her church and I asked her why she was doing this. She replied.
- The rector asked
- I read your columns in Anglican Life.
- And, I would rather give my money to God than the government.
What better justification!