Like many people, the uncertainty of the present times has me thinking about planning ahead, and part of that is working on updating my will and estate plan with legacy gifts.
Part of the reason for doing this is for personal and family reasons – to make sure that my school-aged son is provided for and that I don’t leave an unbearable mess for my older son to have to sort out after I am gone. Having just gone through that with two family members who passed away recently, I know what a burden that can be.
Beyond those personal concerns however, comes the inspiring part: I get to imagine how I can leave a legacy that will advance causes that I care about the most, long after I am gone.
Legacy gifts are an awesome opportunity to influence the future. For me, education, arts, and the environment are personal priorities, and I have a good idea of specific organizations in each of those areas that I would like to leave assets to. Thinking about the difference I can make for each of them makes me very happy.
I already have a will, so right now I am just doing some updates to keep it current.
Part of that process is reviewing and updating the designated beneficiaries on insurance policies, 401k accounts, and IRA’s. When people change jobs, these separate accounts can multiply. If there are some that are not essential for your family, designating one of your favorite nonprofit organizations as the beneficiary of the account after your lifetime is a super simple way to make legacy gifts. You don’t need a lawyer to do this. The update can usually be made online or by completing a simple form provided by the insurance company or plan sponsor. I picked one to designate for AdoptAClassroom.org in my most recent round of updates, and I love knowing that this will continue to advance equity in education for years to come.
But Wait! I Am Starting From Scratch! Where Do I Start with Legacy Gifts?
If you don’t already have a will, tackling the process of creating one can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to. Breaking it down into five steps makes it easier to think about, and then to start:
- Gather important information – Gather and note important information, including personal and financial information, expected beneficiaries, family care, and important documents. Documenting this information will be helpful as you put together a legal plan and leave a roadmap for your executor or personal representative.
- Consult with professionals – While it is possible to write your own will or revocable trust, it is better to work with an attorney. That person can ensure that your will or trust legally provides for your beneficiaries in the manner you direct. They are also the best person to help you plan your legacy gifts. They can advise you on ways to save money and reduce taxes; advise you regarding powers of attorney, medical proxies, living wills and other estate planning matters; and even help with important tax and estate laws that may affect the distribution of your estate. The best way to find an attorney to help with your planning is through personal referrals. Ask someone you trust for a recommendation. If you have an accountant, broker, or other professional advisor working with you, ask for their recommendations as well. You may also inquire at your local bank’s trust department, since trust officers frequently work with estate planners.
- Decide how to distribute your assets – Specify who receives tangible personal property (e.g. jewelry, automobiles). Detail what happens to your home or other real estate. Leave specific assets or cash to family members, or friends. Your attorney can advise you on how to establish trusts to provide for the care of minors or infirm adults, contribute to favorite charities, or reduce or eliminate estate and inheritance taxes. At this time, you can also choose to leave legacy gifts to non-profits you care about, like AdoptAClassroom.org.
- Select a representative or trustee – Your personal representative or trustee will be responsible for seeing that the provisions you included in your will or trust are carried out. Your personal representative needs to be an ethical person who has the time necessary, and preferably has some experience in business and investment matters. A representative can be an individual, a bank with trust powers, or a trust company. Your trustee should not be a charity benefiting from your estate (due to conflict of interest issues, lack of capacity for the charity, etc.)
- Review and update your plan periodically – There are many reasons to review your plan periodically, including life changes, changes in tax laws, or moving to a new state where new laws may apply. Or, you may decide to make additional charitable contributions.
Creating an estate plan can seem overwhelming at first. However, having a plan in place can bring you and your loved ones peace of mind. When your plan is complete, you can be assured your legacy is intentionally crafted and the future will go smoothly for those you care about.
If you have any questions about leaving legacy gifts to AdoptAClassroom.org, let us know. You can reach me, Ann Pifer, at [email protected]
Ann Pifer, Executive Director