Written By Tom Scholller 

That headline seems cold and insensitive, but it grabs our attention. That statement was mentioned at a LEAVE A LEGACY® conference I attended several years ago.

Surveys indicate that about 70% of people in the United States give to charity or a religious institution annually but only about 8% leave something to their church or charity in their will or trust. Michigan statistics are only a little better; according to a survey by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, about 43% of us Michiganians (or if you prefer, Michiganders) have a will and 21% provide a bequest to our church or a charity.

What happens to our support of the parish when we die? Without a legacy gift, it stops. Assume you contribute $20 a week to your parish offertory, a little over $1,000 for the year. If you leave $20,000 for the benefit of your parish as a bequest in your will or trust and that fund is invested at 5%, your parish will continue to receive $1,000 each year for many years after you are gone. You effectively continue to give to your parish in spite of your death. When explained this way, “Don’t stop giving just because you die” makes a lot of sense.

In their pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response (USCCB 1992), the U.S. Catholic bishops encourage us as Christ’s disciples to be good stewards of the blessings God gives to us by sharing them in love and justice with others. We demonstrate this by our weekly offering through our parish, as well as our ministry and volunteer activities.

Obviously, you must have a will or trust to make bequests to the Church or your favorite charity. If you die “intestate,” that is, without a valid will, state law will control the distribution of your property, and that law does not provide for charitable bequests. St. Paul reminds us, we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it (1 Timothy 6:7). Having an estate plan for the orderly distribution of the gifts God gives us during our lifetime is simply faithful stewardship of those gifts.

$20,000 in this example might sound like a lot of money. However, for many people, the best opportunity to make a significant gift to the Church is through estate planning. That’s when life insurance death benefits are paid, the family house is sold, and investments are liquidated — your estate likely will have more cash available than you do during your lifetime. Even if you already have a will or trust, you should review these documents periodically to ensure that they still meet your family’s estate planning goals and objectives, including legacy gifts to the Church.

Check with your pastor whether your parish has an endowment fund with the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, which would be a vehicle for your legacy gift or create your own!

Your endowment gift to Catholic Foundation, in turn, can be designated for the benefit of your parish, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, or other institutions or favorite charities. You could also consider a bequest directly to the Catholic Foundation of Michigan to support Catholic education, critical social outreach, or vibrant parish life through their granting endowments.

This article is for your information on stewardship, estate planning and charitable giving. It is not intended to be legal, financial or tax advice. You should consult with your attorney, financial planner or tax advisor for the planning of the transactions suggested here.

Tom Scholler

  • Department of Stewardship and Grants Management, Archdiocese of Detroit
  • LEAVE A LEGACY® Southeast Michigan Committee
  • Parishioner at Our Lady of the Lakes Parish, Waterford
  • MBA, University of Michigan
  • Catholic Foundation of Michigan Board Member &
    Grant and Impact Committee Member


For more information on estate planning and planned charitable giving, please contact the Catholic Foundation of Michigan: Info@CatholicFoundationMichigan.org