An Important Reminder About Estates

The Executive Director of most non-profit organizations (NPO) is keenly aware of the importance of being included in donors’ wills.  Established, mature organizations realize that many – if not most - of their major gifts have come from the estate of interested donors who remembered that organization in their will.  In fact, the larger the non-profit organization becomes, the more likely it is to have a ‘planned giving’ officer. 

Even though planned giving certainly involves coordinating significant gifts from people who are still living, a planned giving officer is usually also very active in assisting individuals solve problems related to their estate and the ultimate distribution of its assets.

Many times this activity leads to significant gifts that will ultimately inure to the organization after the passing of the donor.  However, every large NPO has also had the surprise of being informed they were to receive a sizable bequest from some donor when they weren’t even sure who that donor was.  They may have received a few small donations from the person, but they had no idea there was such a large gift possible.

The point is, whether the NPO knew about their inclusion in any donor’s estate plan or not, the gift was made possible by the organization being specifically named in the donor’s will.  So, while there are some exceptions to the rule, it can generally be said that unless a person has a will, your organization will not be included in the distribution of that person’s estate. 

Only 25% to 30% of adults actually have a current, valid will.  I have helped Christians plan their estates for about 10 years now.  My experience is that only about 5% of Christians who have a will have included their church or ministry in their will.  Since only 30% of adults even have a will, this means as few as 1% or 2% of Christians currently intend to remember their church or favored ministry when they pass from this life.

Now let’s talk about the disturbing trend that is currently happening in our country.  According to Opinion Research Corporation, a respected canvassing organization, the number of people who do not have a will or include a charity in their will if they have one is increasing. 

Most churches and many NPO’s might not be concerned about this.  They have not realized the importance of ‘legacy planning’ on the part of their members or donors.  Simply put, churches too often fail to challenge their members to consider that determining what to do with their estate – that which they will pass on to someone – is the greatest single act of stewardship they will ever undertake.

Similarly, many NPO’s have not realized the opportunities of receiving estate gifts and spend most of their time and resources pursuing discretionary income from their donors.

In both cases, leaders of churches and NPO’s need to remember why people give to their organization in the first place.  They do so because they believe in its mission and want to generously support it. The purpose of your organization is important to them.  They have made that evident with generous gifts, maybe for most of their life.

 Many of these people would also include your organization in their will.  The problem is they have just never thought about it.  The reason they have never thought about it is they have never been taught about it. 

As a leader in your church or non-profit organization, learn the importance of helping your members and or donors to consider having the same values in will preparation that they have had throughout their life.

Imagine what could be possible if all of your members or donors included your church or organization with the same proportion of their estate as they have with their income.  Many will do this – if they are taught.