Updating Your Will

Summertime plans could include an opportunity to make final arrangements

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Father David BonnarIf ever there is a month in the year to just wind down, catch one’s breath and think less about work, it is July. For so many of us, July signals rest, vacation and fun. I hope you take some time to do all of the above this month. Whether it is at the beach, any of the parks in your area, the mountains or even on the back porch, give yourself a break.

Do you remember what you did this time last year? I certainly embraced the month and went on vacation. But I began doing something else. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but this time last year I began the process of updating my will. Before I was ordained 31 years ago, diocesan officials told my classmates and me that we needed to have a will in place, along with a card that detailed directions for our burial that included family contacts, funeral home and the requested church of the funeral and homilist. We were also told by diocesan officials to update it periodically. A signed-and-sealed copy of all of this pertinent information remains on file in the clergy office.

Now, I had updated my will one previous time. It had been a number of years, and I knew it was time to revisit it once again. What I thought would be a fairly simple process became something altogether different. Updating my will was excruciatingly difficult. Mind you, I am not a millionaire. I don’t have much. For whatever reason, I became paralyzed. For months, the paperwork sat on my desk. In my mind, I knew I had to do this, but I just couldn’t. What was wrong with me? As one who always completes tasks in a timely manner, why was I procrastinating? What was holding me back from embracing this exercise?

I was recently told by a friend that procrastination is a manifestation of anxiety. Why was I then so riddled with anxiety? Perhaps it was because this exercise brought me face to face with my mortality. My mom used to say to us kids, “We are only here on a visit.” The older I become, the more funerals I celebrate, and with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the more I appreciate that phrase. In spite of the roots we put down, our life here is only temporary.

When all is said and done, the only thing we can take with us when we leave this world is our faith in Jesus Christ. There is an old saying, “Shrouds have no pockets.” Have you seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it? My point is whatever we have in this life in terms of money or possessions we leave behind. While I certainly believe that with all my heart, was my procrastination due to a fear of letting go?

I think another source of my procrastination emanated from some advice I received in this process regarding disbursements to step-nieces and step-nephews. An attorney told me that these individuals are typically not included in common wills because they are not blood. I really struggled with this one because, not only did I never hear this before, but I was not brought up that way. Even though I have step-nephews and a step-niece, our family has never even used that language to refer to them. We have always seen them as part of the family. I decided to include all of my nephews and nieces. They won’t be able to retire, but maybe they can have a nice dinner.

So what I began last July, I finally concluded this January. I cannot begin to tell you the sense of relief I felt knowing that this work was done. I even took the unprecedented step of visiting the funeral home and making all of those arrangements so that those left behind will be spared. And my place of burial is right next to my beloved parents.

My attorney also had me complete a living will and health care power of attorney, a copy of which is to remain in the glove box of my car. By now I am sure the pandemic has caused us to clean and rearrange all kinds of things. There is one more thing we all can do, namely, update our will. This challenging exercise is not only a good summer project but it is also something to do in this time of the pandemic.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, email us at Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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