It’s also true that – with the right planning – your assets can continue to support the organizations and causes you care about.
Charitable bequests help you extend the reach of your legacy through planned giving that defines specific gifts in your Will. But, you need to be diligent about how you structure a bequest if you want to ensure that your money and other gifts are used according to your wishes.
Types of bequests
• A bequest can be general (providing funds to help an organization with its general purposes) or specific (providing funds that are earmarked for a clearly defined use).
• They can be simple – the donation of a designated amount
• Residuary – meaning that the donation is equal to whatever remains of your assets once all other terms of your Will have been satisfied
• Contingency-based – meaning that they only go into effect if your named beneficiary does not survive you
Whichever type of bequest you choose, there are a few simple steps to follow to make sure that your wishes are carried out in a way that is true to your intentions:
1. Determine which causes and organizations you want to support. Give some thought to what kind of legacy you want to leave behind. Do you want to consolidate your giving with a single donation, or disperse it across a variety of recipients.
2. Do an asset inventory. Bequests are not limited to monetary assets. In place of liquid assets, they may include real estate, art, vehicles, or any other asset you choose to donate. Consider all your options.
3. Consult with your attorney and/or financial advisor. While a bequest may seem like a fairly simple thing to arrange, there are some details that are best handled by a professional. Both your attorney and your financial advisor will be able to provide valuable guidance on how to set everything up in the most beneficial way for all parties involved.
4. Discuss logistics with the receiving organizations. It’s also wise, especially in relation to substantial bequests, to meet with a representative from the receiving organization so that they confirm that they are able to receive such a gift, are prepared for it, and have a full understanding of your intentions. This meeting will also give you a chance to ask questions about what percentage of your gift will be used for non-administrative/overhead purposes as well as how (if it’s important to you) your bequest will be acknowledged and memorialized.
5. Talk with your family. Finally, you can help mitigate any potential misunderstandings about your wishes by having an open conversation with your family members about what you’ve included in your estate plan.
Throughout the process, be sure to be as specific as you can about your intentions and expectations. In a recent case that garnered some media attention, a frugal librarian named Robert Morin made a $4 million bequest to the University of New Hampshire where he had worked for much of his life. In a move that angered some students and faculty, the school chose to spend $1 million of that gift on a video scoreboard for their newly renovated football stadium. However, because only $100,000 of Morin’s generous bequest was specifically designated for the library, the university was completely within its rights to use the remaining “unrestricted” amount however they chose.
If it is within your means, a charitable bequest is a fitting way to continue providing tangible support to the charities closest to your heart. It’s also an effective way to pass on your values to the next generation by demonstrating your commitment to a particular cause.