Give generously before you go. It changes lives. Forever.
After almost 40 years as a nonprofit professional, I am still bewildered when someone tells me the story of “…the millionaire next door” who passed away without a will or trust and no heirs.
Generally speaking, when someone passes away without a will, trust, or other distribution plan, their money, assets, and belongings – the representation of their life – are distributed according to California law. It’s a lengthy, expensive, and complicated process, with the State determining who gets what.
“I’d love to spend a lot of time today creating my will…,” said no one. I jest a bit, but the statement hits home as to why people delay planning of final wishes. Creating a will and/or trust can seem daunting, time-consuming, and filled with decisions we just don’t want to make. This is where community foundations excel as a resource center, helping individuals take a simpler route of decision-making by designating favorite charities as beneficiaries. This often takes the heavy burden of deciding who gets what off the table.
Laura Holck, retired estate attorney and Legacy Endowment’s current Grants Chair notes, “the inevitable happens: we pass away. But what we can do for others in our estate plan can have profound meaning with just a little planning. I’ve seen first-hand the benefit of individuals who created endowments and because of them, generous grants are awarded each year, making an impactful difference for organizations who support local seniors, children, veterans, and animal causes.”
Laura’s comment reminds me of someone who recently passed who absolutely LOVED soccer. No estate plan or heirs. Sadly, the abundance of his life’ work now sits in bank accounts and in an empty home, at the mercy of the probate system. With some help from Legacy Endowment, he could have created a bequest plan for a permanent endowment supporting youth soccer in Fallbrook. Think of it: new equipment, safety gear, practice wear and uniforms, maybe even new field lights for night games. Everything needed to help kids excel in a beloved sport was possible and not just for one year, but in perpetuity. He missed a rare and wonderful opportunity to know that after his passing something special would come from his planning.
For individuals who have some estate plan of one type or another, you can use gift language in your will to similarly create beneficiary endowment designations or within your retirement accounts and life insurance records. Later on, your named endowment fund will make charitable gifts to beloved organizations. It’s a small amount of time to plan with such a big difference down the road from the effort.
Community foundations such as Legacy Endowment effectively manage endowments so the income from invested assets grows, helping increase the size of charitable distributions. To explain, I’m fond of using one of our country’s Founding Fathers to illustrate the point. Ben Franklin, the 15th child of 17 children of the Franklin middle-income household, had hardly any formal education after 10 years of age. He later became a scientist, politician, journalist, businessperson, entrepreneur, and signer of our Declaration of Independence. As testimony to his lifelong pursuit of gaining greater knowledge, his simple will designated a modest amount to start an endowment fund benefiting students financially unable to attend college. Ben passed away in 1790 and yet, by 1990, two hundred years later, his endowment funds were worth more than $7.5 million. But more importantly, for two centuries, thousands of students received generous college scholarships in his name. I don’t know about you, but I’d truly like to think we all have a little bit of Ben Franklin’s inspiration and vision for the future in all of us.
This is a reprint of Jean Larsen’s article in the Village News on August 31, 2023.
This is part of a series of articles written to share important information about charitable giving and the various ways you can easily support your favorite charities and community.