In my role at the Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County, I have the privilege of engaging in meaningful conversations with Catholics across the valley who are committed to supporting our Church. When I explain to them how they can include a planned gift for the Church as part of their estate plan and legacy, many are surprised because they think those gifts are reserved for the wealthy. And then I think of my grandmother.
My grandmother became a widow very young and my family always made sure to include her in our outings. However, the time it took for her to get ready would drive us crazy. She needed to say her prayers, iron her dress, pick the right jewelry and put on makeup before she went anywhere. She also had to make sure that there wasn’t a single dish left in the sink. As impatient teenagers, my siblings and I always tried to persuade her to just come and leave the rest for later. She would simply smile and say, “We never know when the Lord will call us to heaven; if I don’t do it, you might end up doing my dishes.” We couldn’t argue. Who wants to do dishes?
Eventually, I understood what she was teaching us. While many people believe that the first impression is important, my grandmother also believed in making a good last impression.
A few weeks after my grandmother died, my mom met with my uncles and aunt to go over things. I remember being nervous since my father, a family law attorney, shared with us many stories where families were broken because of the poor planning of people who had passed away. Luckily, that was not the case because my grandmother, as it turned out, had a great plan and she carefully communicated her wishes to each of her five children. Everyone knew what they were supposed to keep, and the distribution of her few assets was fair.
But there was something else that my grandmother asked for… “When I go to heaven, whatever you don’t need for yourselves, you can give to Mother Superior.” Mother Superior was the Principal at Our Lady of Mercy School, a school at which she taught for many years. This was a special place for her and she trusted that the Sisters always knew the needs of the community. There were indeed many things that my mom and siblings didn’t need, and even though they were of little value, I know they made a difference to someone. While not being what we would consider wealthy, my grandmother managed to leave a legacy for both her family and her favorite Catholic ministry.
For most of us, transferring our assets will not be as simple as it was for my grandmother. Our wealth is more complicated today with appreciated stock, life insurance, retirement plans, etc. and we must have a will or trust to document our wishes and make it easier on our families. But some of the same questions that my grandmother asked herself will remain the same: How will I be remembered? What will my legacy be?
I have the best last impression of my grandmother! She died as she had lived — with generosity, meaning and peace. And yes…the day she went to heaven, there were no dirty dishes in her sink. That is what leaving a legacy is all about.
*If you would like to leave a legacy of support for a Catholic organization that is important in your life, we would be glad to assist you. Please contact us at (408) 995-5219.