May We Talk About Your Will?

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Your donor’s will is a key part of their final word to the world about their charitable giving preferences. It is our job as fundraisers to help them understand that and to ask them to talk with us about it.

The planning and writing of a will is both a family obligation and a personal privilege. When we die, our passing is legally documented in a death certificate and then in probate court.

If donors don’t have a will, the court and their heirs will decide for them. Your donors need to know that if they don’t have a will they’re losing an opportunity to demonstrate their love to those whom they cherish, plus losing the chance to further their legacy of giving to the causes they love.

The donor’s will must name an executor who will decide key aspects of settling their estate, especially the distribution of accumulated wealth and expressions of gratitude through allocations to charities of choice.

The donor’s attorney could play a key role, but, in this age of technology, writing a will by using online legal tools is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Even a handwritten will is acceptable as long as it is witnessed and notarized. Keep It Simple

A pertinent fact is that most legacy gifts made to charities after a person dies (planned gifts) are left through a will and are unknown to the nonprofit. I urge you not to worry about that. Instead, put your energy into getting the news out to your donors that they need a will and that you’d like them to remember your charity in it.

This simple sentence should be transmitted to them to use in their will:

I hereby give, devise, and bequeath $__________.____ or ______% of the net proceeds after my estate is settled, to <Insert Charities Legal Name, a nonprofit organization located at XXX Street, City, State, Zip, Federal Tax ID #00-0000000, for their general use and purpose. Mail should be sent to: <Insert agency name and mailing address>. Would you (Ms. Donor) share this sentence with your attorney or financial advisor, and ask him or her to make sure it’s in your will?

To start with, I suggest you first have a conversation with each of your board members. Have the conversations with each of them privately, not at a board meeting. There needs to be a dialogue. Once you have finished your conversations, let the full board know the aggregate effect of their commitment to leaving a legacy for your nonprofit. That will impress them. Second, for donors age 45 and above, we generally send them a letter twice a year about legacy giving, with the above sentence included.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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