Are We in Your Will? Please Tell Us! A Gift Planner’s Case for Notifying Charities Included in Your Estate Plan

Posted by on Oct 12, 2023 01:55:01 PM

Stacey L. McKinley, Esq.
Director, Gift Planning
Cleveland Clinic

National Estate Planning Awareness Week is the third week of October. Equipping clients with the necessary information is crucial for success. A more precise understanding of when to notify charities of your clients' intentions helps you and your clients select the path that is best suited for their needs. 

As a fundraising professional, there is nothing more bittersweet than receiving a letter from an attorney notifying you that your organization is a beneficiary of a generous bequest through a client's will or trust. While notification of a charitable gift is certainly welcome, receiving it from an unknown donor after death is not a fundraiser's best-case scenario. For a fundraiser, it represents a lost opportunity – an opportunity to get to know a donor and, perhaps, his or her family, to learn what inspired the donor's philanthropy, and to find out how the donor would prefer that his or her charitable dollars be used. Perhaps most important, it's a missed opportunity to say thank you. 

I attended a gift planning seminar recently during which an attorney stated that it never occurred to his client to notify the charities included in his estate plan. Understandably, estate planning is a personal undertaking and many donors opt to keep their plans confidential. Still, donors may not realize that there are benefits to notifying charities of their philanthropic intentions.

What are these benefits?

First of all, many charities, especially universities and hospitals, allow donors to designate estate gifts to a specific purpose. Perhaps a donor would like to use his or her philanthropy to support student scholarships or to fund cancer research. Fundraisers welcome the opportunity to have these discussions and to craft a gift that meets a donor's personal goals. These discussions offer a donor a chance to develop personal relationships within the charity and to become further engaged in its mission.

Many charities have societies honoring those who have included their organization in their estate planning. For example, Cleveland Clinic's PYRAMID Legacy Society includes estate donors no matter the size of the gift. Members are listed in an annual newsletter, invited to special events and receive regular stewardship updates.  

How do you notify a charity of your intentions?

Many charities have simple estate plan intention forms for donors to complete. Most of these forms are non-binding and can be changed at any time. I tell donors to only complete the sections with which they are comfortable. Gift planners typically recommend broad language that attorneys can use in wills or trusts. An estate plan intention form allows a donor to notify an organization of a specific gift designation without amending their will or trust. In addition, these forms may allow donors to make their estate gift in honor of a loved one.

Some donors prefer to notify charitable organizations of their plans with a personal letter or even a copy of their will, trust, or beneficiary designation. All of these are welcome by charities and, even if a donor requests that their gift remain anonymous, gives fundraisers and their organizations the opportunity to respond with a sincere thank you for your support. 

As we strive to educate others about possible estate plans, take this week to provide additional context and opportunities for your clients to effectively navigate the decision-making process. By doing so, we can ensure that they are making decisions that will benefit themselves and their organizations.

Topics: Estate Planning