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Let the spirit move you: Create a spiritual estate plan

Stocks. Bonds. Home. Cottage. Valuables.

If you’re being thorough in planning for your eventual death, you’re careful to include it all — right down to which nieces and nephews receive those treasured knick-knacks. But will your final wishes recognize and reflect the religious or spiritual components that helped define your life?

“It’s valuable to have a conversation not only about your stuff, but about the importance of your religion or your spirituality when it comes to end-of-life decisions,” said nurse Carol Robinson.

A palliative care nurse for more than 30 years and community coordinator for Making Choices Michigan, Robinson has winced too many times witnessing family members unaware of how to integrate spiritual elements into their loved one’s healthcare and final arrangements. Usually, it’s because there was never a conversation, much less a written record of those desires, which is something Making Choices Michigan encourages as part of a comprehensive advance health care plan. As a spiritual caregiver with Emmanuel Hospice, Vern Bareman is always seeking opportunities to help patients and their families grasp the importance of raising religious and spiritual issues.

“As a spiritual caregiver, I don’t get into many conversations about financial matters, but I’ve helped many people who want to leave what I call a ‘values legacy,’” Bareman said. “Their faith was important to them, and that’s what they really want to key in on at the time of their death.”

Spiritual estate planning can mean choosing ahead of time which rituals and sacraments might be integrated into your final days, right down to which songs or sacred hymns might be played at your funeral. But it can also serve in a way that helps you decide who gets what from your will. For instance, you might gift one survivor more generously because they honored your religious values, where others did not. Spiritual estate planning also helps to record part of life’s journey that is too often overlooked.

“When you look at a person’s obituary, it often looks like a work resume, but spirituality is an important component to our lives, too, however we define that,” Robinson said. “While I’ve adhered to Christian beliefs throughout my life, I’ve struggled at times with doubt, just as the apostles Paul and Thomas did. I want my kids and grandkids to know that.”

Robinson has many records to help her survivors know the story of her life. “I’ve got 38 years’ worth of my own journals, and it includes how I’ve dealt with a lot of different things.”

In lieu of journals, Robinson said that patients in hospice or palliative care can achieve the same thing by having an open and honest conversation about how their religious or spiritual beliefs serve as an axis around which a final plan develops and evolves. Consulting websites such as or is a good first step.

“Spiritual estate planning should be an important part of the conversation,” Robin-son said. “People tend to stress the physical health care and the financials. But it’s also important to live out your journey within your spiritual realm.”