By Christy Butler Eckoff, managing director, philanthropic counsel
Reports have said that one of our national treasures, Aretha Franklin, did not plan for the future of her own treasure – that she passed on without a will and a reported net worth of $80 million. Many of us are hesitant to tackle the difficult task of writing a will for a variety of reasons – from finding a legal expert to an unwillingness to think about our own mortality. Even if you are not worth $80 million, leaving instructions for the distribution of your estate is vital to ensure your heirs and favorite charities are supported and your wishes are executed by those you trust.
At the Community Foundation, we work with philanthropists to help them drive their charitable giving during their lifetimes and also help them include philanthropy in their estate plans. Here are some common pitfalls of not having a will or detailed estate plan. The implications go beyond simply supporting the nonprofits of your choice:
- Other people, not of your choosing, will make decisions about the distribution of your treasured earnings, investments or property.
- Legal bills can compound as the estate is fought out and distributed, leaving even less for your heirs and the organizations you wished to support.
- Your philanthropic intent could be ignored if not clearly stated.
- Family heirlooms could be lost, sold or misdirected.
- You could unintentionally cause hurt feelings and damaged relationships among family members.
- A sizable estate could carry a tax burden for heirs; directing some of your estate to charity may reduce that burden while also helping causes you hold dear.
- People may choose to disclaim an item that someone else may have wanted or that could have benefitted a nonprofit.
If you don’t have a will, for most of us there are online tools like LegalZoom that can make the process easy. If your estate holdings are more complicated you may need to consult an estate attorney or other financial/legal advisor to ensure your legacy is carried out as you wish, especially if you want to leave a legacy for good.
Note: This piece originally appeared in the Saporta Report.