How many chances do we have to leave a legacy?
In an important sense, we lay the foundation of our legacy day by day. It is the sum of the impact we have on the world through our actions. It is embodied in the memories others will carry of us long after we are gone. It is also the assets that we have and can direct to causes that matter.
Too often, though, the decision about how those assets will be distributed is frozen in time. It reflects that best thinking of a younger version of ourselves working with information that invariably becomes out of date.
But it does not have to be this way. We have the opportunity, today, to make adjustments to this important aspect of what our legacy will be.
This is the lesson I took from an unexpected gift I recently received.
I was enjoying the short walk to our mailbox. During this quarantine, I’ve been cooped up inside home-schooling kids, preparing them meals, and somehow always landing my bare feet on their stray Legos. It’s no wonder a brief moment in the sunshine has become a real treat!
In the mailbox, I found to my surprise a package addressed to me from the Estate of Jacklyn Falk . I was completely confused. Jacklyn Falk was my college boyfriend’s mother. I had seen that she had passed away about a month and a half ago, but I didn’t know what to make of the sudden package.
Perplexed, I opened it up. Inside was a letter from my college boyfriend, the executor of his mother’s estate. His mother had not updated her will since we were in college, over 25 years ago! As a consequence, I received some of her rare books.
I wrote him back to ask if he’d like the books. Truth be told, I felt funny accepting the gift from someone I had not spoken to in a quarter century. He insisted that I keep them per the instructions in the will, and so, while I still feel less than comfortable about it, I did and I will cherish them.
Securing Your Legacy
This whole experience prompted thoughts in me about legacies and bequests. Jacklyn had not updated her will since the early 1990s. Were the other recipients of her generosity as disconnected from her life as I had become?
I know she had been involved with a local dog shelter in New Mexico, but did she remain connected to it after she moved to Baltimore? If she left assets to the shelter, did she have any knowledge about whether it remained well-run?
In addition to the rare books, this experience gave me something else – inspiration for action. I put a date on the calendar to revisit my estate plans!
It’s a good habit to revisit one’s estate plans every few years. Your priorities change. New people enter your life. If Jacklyn had done this, perhaps her books might have delighted a daughter-in-law or grandchildren rather than being sent to me.
Our lives and priorities adapt and change as time wears on. Our plans need to be able to adapt with them.
A Trusted Partner
That’s why I love and choose to work at a donor-advised fund – particularly one so focused on legacy and donor intent. One of the benefits of using a DAF in your estate plans is that you can change up the charities you would like to receive gifts after your passing without needing to pay a lawyer to revise the actual will.
Making a donor-advised fund account the beneficiary of your will (or of a charitable remainder trust, your IRA accounts, or other elements of your estate) is a simple process. Making subsequent changes is just as simple. It’s why we view DAFs as a “charitable hub” for your legacy plans (read more about that idea here).
DAFs aren’t just flexible and simple. They also add a layer of security to your planning if you choose a mission-driven provider such as DonorsTrust. That means we have a set of principles that guide our clients’ giving, acting as guardrails to ensure a donor’s money won’t make grants to organizations that compromise those ideals.
As the community foundation for liberty, we exists to steward the charitable dollars of donors who wish to see their legacies support the ideas of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.
Our clients choose to partner with us because they cherish these principles and want their charitable legacies to show that. They know they can trust us to make sure that happens even after they are gone.
An Opportune Time For Assessment
I’m not being dramatic when I look at how the coronavirus is shifting my thinking once again towards my own legacy. After all, I know firsthand how quickly things can change. It’s never too early to be thinking about what really matters.
My own personal hope is that my estate will benefit organizations that I’m confident will use my gifts in a smart and strategic way. As I continue to grow and discover new charitable priorities, my legacy plans will change too.
Though it’s sad to see what this virus is doing to the world, perhaps it presents an opportunity for you to pause and think through your own legacy plans. I’d truly welcome the opportunity to talk to you about your own legacy and how your favorite charities can benefit from the assets you have built up. We can also talk about how you can lessen the tax burden on your children with bequests to charity.
I don’t want my assets to perplex people from my past as I was perplexed. I imagine you don’t either. In this strange time when so many of us are reassessing our priorities, take a moment to double check that the legacy you’ve laid out is the one you actually want to leave! And feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss your legacy plans at any time….that’s what I am here for.