Legal Issues For New Members

A panoply of legal issues arises when women and men seek membership in religious institutes in this twenty first century. Those joining religious institutes today are a diverse group: They come from many age groups, with a rich diversity of life experience and professional credentials. They have varied assets from bank accounts to portfolios to real estate. They have assorted liabilities from education loans to credit card debt to pending litigation. They come from across the globe and speak a multitude of languages. They may be young or old, healthy or handicapped or may be living with health conditions unknown a century ago. These factors highlight both the richness of new members and the challenges of bringing them into membership.

Some of the legal issues that arise are:

Property - When a candidate enters an order, the candidate is gradually introduced into religious life and the order progressively assumes financial responsibility for the person. Arrangements must be made for this process and for the treatment of the candidate's independent assets.

Debts and Liabilities - Many candidates come to religious orders with debts and liabilities, and some of these are substantial. Like property, these matters must be identified and resolved in the course of transitioning into the order.

Taxes - Tax status changes as a person moves through the integration/formation process. This must be understood as the new member moves forward.

Personal Income and Expenses - As a new member is gradually integrated into the life of the order, personal income and expenses must also be integrated. A written policy can be helpful in letting everyone know how finances will be handled over the course of the new member's integration into the community.

Professional Obligations - Many candidates come with professional credentials and licenses. A determination should be made regarding the need and requirements for maintaining these through the formation program.

Family Ties - The family ties that may require legal attention include prior marriage or other exclusive relationship, children or other dependents and the need for care for a parent or other relative.

Immigration - Immigration law is complex and frequently changing. It is important to explore immigration options open to the candidate and devise a timeline for meeting the requirements of immigration law within the parameters of the integration process of the institute.

Screening - Screening is an important step in determining the candidate's suitability for the community. As these screenings grow more extensive, religious institutes should know what information to obtain, and how to obtain it.

Issues arising after entrance - Despite the best preparation, unforeseen issues may arise during the integration process. The institute and the person may or may not be able to resolve the issue in an acceptable manner.

Records Management - In working through the legal issues above, many legal documents will be created. Managing these records is becoming an increasing challenge.

For more on these issues, November's webcast will explore the various legal issues that arise with new members. It will discuss screening of candidates and managing new member legal issues during formation. Participants will receive the newly updated Vocation Screening Instrument, available in English and Spanish.

There is still time to register for:

Online Symposium on Consecrated Life - final session: October 14, 2012 - Karen Rose OSB - Charism: Yesterday, Today and Forever.
Covenant Project - comprehensive service for aging institutes. Phase One Workshops in 2013.

I am always happy to work with you or your community, or to present materials on various topics as you face the challenges of an uncertain and changing future.

Amy Hereford

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