October 13, 2017

Joe Thiegs photo

According to several national polls (like this one from Gallup), over half of American adults—and perhaps as many as 6 out of 10—don’t have wills. Everyone should have a plan, both for themselves and for loved ones. The reasons why many don’t range from discomfort with the topic, to simple procrastination, to a lack of information about how to start.

This week (October 16-22) is National Estate Planning Awareness Week. We can help our donors by giving them the information they need to get started with planning. Among this information is how charitable planning can help them as well as their public media stations and other charitable organizations they love most.

Estate planning is more than simply deciding who gets the family candlesticks. Among some of the questions addressed through thoughtful planning:

  • Will I have enough money on which to live for the rest of my life?
  • If I’m married, will my spouse have enough for the rest of his or her life?
  • If I have children or grandchildren, what and how do I want to provide for them?
  • If my kids are minors, who do I want to care for them if I can’t?
  • If I’m incapacitated, who will make financial decisions and transactions on my behalf?
  • What are my wishes about health decisions and medical care? If I can’t speak for myself, who do I want to make health care decisions on my behalf?
  • How can I structure my plan in the most tax-efficient way?
  • Are my beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance coordinated with the rest of my plans?
  • Does my plan reflect and convey my personal values?
  • How do I want to support charitable organizations that have been important to me, my family, and our community?

The good news is that, for most of us, it’s not too late to start, or to revisit outdated plans. While recognizing that development professionals only give general educational information and can’t give legal or tax advice, there are several ways to help our donors along the path:

  1. Share information about charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts, which can provide a secure stream of significant income as well as a current tax deduction for the donor, and helps your organization too.
  2. Promote estate planning generally. The more frequently your donors have well-considered plans in place, the more often your station and other charities will benefit.
  3. Ask a local law firm or financial advising group to present a session on estate and charitable planning basics and invite your donors and prospects. (This works best if it is an attorney or other advisor who has worked with one of your donors on a charitable gift to your station in the past. Be sure to make clear to attendees that your station doesn’t endorse any particular advisor.)
  4. Publicize planned gifts that your organization has received, and highlight your planned gift donors (with their permission, of course) to a broader audience. Thank your current donors, and let everyone know how important planned gifts are to your organization’s work and future.

One of the best things about having a solid estate plan in place is peace of mind. Your donors will feel good about themselves—as they should—and know that they’ve done something good for their families. If we do a good job of helping our donors help others, some of those donors will remember our stations in their planning too.

Joe Thiegs photo