Giving to charity through one's estate leaves a testament

Carla Smiley is the planned giving coordinator for the Edmonton Archdiocese.


Carla Smiley is the planned giving coordinator for the Edmonton Archdiocese.

November 17, 2014

As disciples of Jesus, Catholics are stewards, not owners, of what God has entrusted to them.

"In fact we are accountable to God for what we receive and how we used it to serve others," explains Carla Smiley, coordinator of planned giving for the Edmonton Archdiocese. At the end of our lives, "we are to give whatever gifts we received back to God with increase."

One way to be a good steward is to leave money to charity in your will, says Smiley, noting that Catholic charities rely primarily on Catholics for funding.

In Alberta you get a generous tax credit if you make a charitable donation. Otherwise, Smiley says, the government may take the bulk of the estate as taxes and your children will get what's left over.

In a bid to help people steward the gifts of their lives, the archdiocese has published an Estate Planning Guide for Catholics.

The guide helps users develop an estate plan, which consists of a will, an enduring power of attorney and a personal directive. It also offers guidance regarding end-of-life decisions such as organ donation, Catholic funerals, burial arrangements and cemetery selection.

"Creating an estate plan is truly an act of love," Archbishop Richard Smith says in the guide's introduction.

"It gives you and your loved ones peace of mind by making known your wishes for the disposition of your earthly goods (and) ensures that those dependent on you will continue to be cared for."

The archbishop says through a will, one can make gifts to the Church or various other good charities that will continue the work of God in the world.

"Remembering your parish, the archdiocese or any of its institutions or ministries in your estate planning is a decision of generosity and faith."

Smiley said the archdiocese created the guide to help people steward their gifts well. "It tells you how to do it; it gives you guidelines."

A written will, she said, provides you with a final opportunity to express your gratitude.

"It's a way to witness to whom and what is most important to you, and to support what you have cared for through the years," she said. "It is a chance to provide not only for the needs of your own children but the needs of another child – Charity – who will carry your legacy forward."


Smiley said in today's more secular approach to wills and estates, "we've kind of forgotten about the testimony part, the testament that I want to leave in my will and through my will.

"A charitable gift is a part of that testimony," she explained. "It tells my children, my friends and my family what's important to me. And hopefully what people will be saying through their will is that their faith is important to them."

Over the last two-and-a-half years, Smiley has received all kinds of gifts for Catholic institutions, ranging from $200 for a rural Catholic cemetery to $1.3 million for a city parish. On average, people who give to charity specify three different charities in their will.

"They divide their gift because they want to give to a mission and they want to give something to the seminary and they want to support their parish."

One woman, Rosemary, left money to St. Joseph Seminary in her will because her dad had done the same.

"If it was important to my dad, it is important to me," she declared. Many others have left money to Newman Theological College, religious orders, foreign missions or charities like Catholic Social Services and the Marian Centre.


"We are called to a life of greatness," Smiley said. "We can be great in our generosity whether we have a little bit of money or a lot."

In addition to the satisfaction one feels in supporting people or causes that one cares about, there are also tax advantages for doing so, noted Smiley.

An estate is eligible to receive tax credits for any charitable donations made in the will. In some cases, those tax credits can be passed on to the beneficiaries of the estate.

"The only way I have to defray the tax bill is to make a charitable donation," she observed.

Smiley recommends that in order to see what tax benefits may accrue to one's estate by making a donation to charity in one's will, people should consult a professional, such as a lawyer, financial planner or accountant.

When people are raising families, the money they have coming in and going out on a regular basis often isn't very great.

"They don't have a lot of extra cash but when they pass away, they have a house, they have their savings and maybe they had a business. It's at that moment when people can leave a larger gift," says Smiley. "This is a way that people can steward."

Smiley can be contacted at 780-469-1010, ext. 2231.