By Dan Russo
DUBUQUE — Taking good care of the resources God gives us is a key part of being a Christian both in this life and after we die.
That’s why Holy Spirit Parish recently sponsored its second planned giving seminar titled “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way.” The event March 15 included talks from an attorney and two financial planning experts. The panel offered information and answered questions about basic estate planning, wills, and the tax implications of charitable giving and charitable trusts.
Speaking to about a dozen curious people in a community room at Sacred Heart Church, Father Dwayne Thoman, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, began the evening by speaking about his own experience making a will for the first time shortly after he was ordained in 1976 and then updating it in 2007.
“It does make you feel good if you take control of your assets and you decide what’s going to happen,” said the priest. Father Thoman described his own priorities for charitable giving, which include supporting evangelization and education. He emphasized that having a plan for your resources is a way of “paying it forward” — giving thanks for the gifts we have been given by being generous to others.
Jeffrey Hiatt, a lawyer who handles wills and estates as part of his practice, covered four topics: first, the need to create a financial inventory; second, the importance of having durable power of attorney documents for medical and financial affairs; third, the reasons someone needs a will, and finally, the role of trusts — a legal entity that can assist with asset management and planned giving.
A financial inventory is a document that lists a person’s property and financial assets, such as bank accounts or bonds, so that everything will be easy to find in the case of an emergency or death.
“(A financial inventory) does two things,” said Hiatt. “It relieves a lot of headaches, but you’re also ensuring assets don’t get missed.”
The inventory should be kept in a safe place where it could be found by the people who need it, such as the executor of one’s estate or a loved one managing ones finances during a serious medical situation.
Durable power of attorney documents explain who should manage one’s finances or make someone’s medical decisions while they are alive, but are unable to decide for themselves, according to Hiatt. A living will is another important document that spells out what types of life prolonging medical treatments someone wants (or doesn’t want) in the event that they have a terminal illness or are in a “vegetative state.”
A will explains how one wants their resources allocated after death, and is important, according to Hiatt, because it can prevent stress or disputes among family members and can help the deceased person determine what happens to their possessions or who cares for underage children.
“(If you don’t have a will), a judge is going to make decisions because you didn’t say what you want,” said Hiatt.
Timothy Breitfelder, a certified financial planner, followed Hiatt at the podium. He imparted basic information about charitable giving and taxes.
“It’s the one area where the government allows people to avoid taxes,” said Breitfelder, about giving to charity.
How one does this, however, can make a difference in how much one can donate. For example, any gains one makes on stocks will be taxed once the stock is sold, according to Breitfelder. Therefore, instead of giving cash donations after selling stocks, one could legally avoid taxes by giving those stocks directly to the charity. This would mean a person could theoretically give more to the charity through this process than with a cash gift.
There are many other complex regulations affecting charitable giving, but before someone gets into specifics, Breitfelder recommended asking a bigger question.
“What do you care about and how would you want to benefit the organization?” he said.
Polly Hauser, a certified financial planner and wealth advisor, finished the panel presentations by focusing on trusts, particularly charitable trusts.
“A trust agreement is a type of legal entity that survives upon your death,” she said. “It’s become much more common.”
Trusts, of which there are several different types, allow a person to pass on assests after death without going through the probate (court) system, but Hauser explained that a will would still be needed. During life, trusts can sometimes offer an effective avenue for charitable giving because of tax advantages and other factors.
Andy Schroeder, a member of Holy Spirit Parish whose family has been part of that community for three generations, acted as master of ceremonies for the seminar. He explained that he and his wife have added a bequest to the parish in their wills.
“My grandparents 60 to 70 years ago helped build this place,” he said. “It’s a place that’s been special to us.”
Schroeder, who works as director of development for the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, based in Dubuque, helped plan the seminar for his parish. The parish leadership felt it was an important program to offer, he said.
“We have a lot of people in the parish who have been loyal, faithful members,” said Schroeder. “By offering something like this, we give them information if they choose to leave a legacy to the parish.”
Since the process of drafting wills, estate planning and charitable giving can be complicated, Schroeder recommended people seek assistance with it.
“I would encourage them to speak with their pastor as well as an attorney or financial professional,” he said.
PHOTO: Attorney Jeffrey Hiatt addresses members of Holy Spirit Parish during the “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way” seminar at Sacred Heart Church March 15. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)