Blog How Can I Support Charitable Causes in My Will?

How Can I Support Charitable Causes in My Will?

You don’t have children or any other surviving family members that you want to leave your estate to, or you do, but you prefer to leave behind your assets to a cause where your one-time gift makes a larger impact and potentially is a gift that keeps on giving, what do you do? Leaving a portion or the bulk of your estate to a charity may be what makes the most sense for you. If you’re wondering how to best do that, we’ll answer the common question we receive, which is, “How can I support charitable causes in my will?” below. 

Benefits Associated With Donating to Nonprofits Via Your Will

Many factors motivate testators (a person drafting a will) to leave assets to one person versus another. The fact that they may not have any surviving family members or cherished friends or want to have a bigger impact and leave behind a legacy may motivate them to look for other options, which is often to consider charities. Some pros associated with charitable bequests include it allows you to:

  • Have a hand in helping the organization make a lasting impact on others
  • Give a gift that keeps on giving (the impact your donation makes can reverberate throughout future generations)

Plus, another positive associated with donating to charitable causes through your will is that you don’t have to contribute to them now when you’re growing your nest egg, but instead, once you’re no longer in need of the funds to live off of.

The Process for Leaving Assets to Charities in Your Will

You can list charities as beneficiaries in your will, just like you would individuals, such as a family member. However, you need to be clear as to what type of beneficiary you want them to be. Those options include:

  • Primary: When you decide to have a charity be your beneficiary, they will be entitled to any assets you left to them in your will, just like any individual beneficiary would be entitled to (i.e., a car, cash, etc.)
  • Secondary: if you’ve designated a charity as a secondary beneficiary, it means that your assets would only pass on to that charitable cause upon your passing if your primary one (i.e., a spouse) had pre-deceased you
  • Residuary: Any charity you named as this type of beneficiary would only be able to receive assets contained in your estate that you didn’t earmark for someone else in your will

In some cases, designating a certain amount of money or pinpointing a certain value of an investment or retirement account that you plan to leave to a charity in your will isn’t possible. In such cases, you may want to designate a specific percentage to different individuals or charities. Generally, you can do this on the account’s beneficiary form. However, in the case of cash or if you’ve listed a charity as a residuary beneficiary to your will, as described above, assigning a percentage may be warranted.

Naming a Charity as a Beneficiary in Your Will

When listing a charity as a beneficiary in your will, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be clear in using the correct and full legal name of the non-profit or foundation and any other details that may make it abundantly clear who your designated recipient is, such as an address and its Employer Identification Number (EIN), when doing so. It’s important to note that, in the case of the latter, EIN numbers can vary by chapter of the non-profit, so if you have a specific local chapter you want to include in your will, you’ll want to get the identifier for it.

Finding Non-Profits or Foundations To Donate to Here in North Carolina

There are plenty of big-name national organizations that would, of course, be glad to receive a portion of your estate after you pass away. However, giving back to a cause that perhaps receives fewer donations here in our home state can mean even more. 

If you’re unsure about charities you may want to give to after you’re gone, we’d recommend checking out the following:

  • The North Carolina Secretary of State charities & fundraisers search tool: One of the easiest ways we found to use this search tool is by selecting “any words” for the top box and typing in topics of interest like, for example, “pets” in the one underneath it. You can also choose “starting with” for the first box, and in the second, type a specific letter, like “A,” and move through the entire alphabet by repeating the same step to browse charities in our state. You’ll initially see an overview letting you know if they have an active license, and you can also click on their profile for more information. 
  • The North Carolina Center for Nonprofit Organizations, Inc. member directory: This is another good resource for finding local charitable causes to provide support to after your death. This tool allows you to search by name, category, and county either together or independently from one another. You can also click on the organization’s name for more details about the work it does. Just keep in mind the non-profits listed on this site are restricted to member organizations, so it may not be as comprehensive of a listing as the NC Secretary of State site listed above.

When trying to decide which charities to give to, while it’s one step in the right direction if they’re registered with the state and have an active license, you’ll want to do some additional research about these organizations before reaching a final decision. When evaluating them, look at their community outreach efforts and budgetary allocations (there’s generally a publicly-facing report showing their donations and expenditures on their website). Even consider calling or meeting in person with representatives from the organization or volunteering with it to confirm that it is indeed the right fit. 

Which Types of Assets Can You Will Over to a Charity?

Charitable bequests, as leaving some of all your personal assets to a charity is commonly referred to, can take the form of:

  • Cash
  • Financial instruments, such as stocks and bonds
  • A house
  • Valuables, including jewelry, artwork, and collectibles
  • Furniture
  • A car 
  • Investment accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA

As estate planning attorneys, we feel it is important to share with you that, once you’ve decided what you’re planning to leave to a charity, it’s best to let your family members or anyone else that may anticipate being a beneficiary to your estate of your choices. Doing so will minimize confusion and the chances of contested will scenarios in the future.

Notifying Charitable Causes of Your Anticipated Bequest

You could assuredly just list a charity or multiple charities as estate beneficiaries; however, it’s best to notify them in advance of your intended gift. Why? Being able to forecast donations makes it easier for the organization to budget its financial resources.

Generally, it’s unnecessary to reach out via letter or phone to notify them to anticipate your bequest. Instead, you can just go to the charity’s website, depending on how it is, and you’ll see a “planned giving” tool on their website. If you click on it, you can report what you intend to leave to them — and doing so anonymously is often an option.  

How an Attorney Can Help You Leave Your Assets to Charities

If you’ve decided that leaving your estate either wholly or partially to a charity is what you want to do and you’re clear as to who you want to leave your assets to, you should consider reaching out to legal counsel like ours, at Schulz Stephenson Law. When reaching out to us, one of our estate planning attorneys will confirm if a will is indeed the best option for leaving behind your desired assets to charitable causes and, if so, discuss the best way to draft or revise your will to reflect your preferences. 
You’ve worked so hard to build and preserve your assets throughout your lifetime thus far, and you have plans for what you want to become of them extending beyond a single beneficiary. You instead want your estate to go to a cause where it will have a much larger impact on society at large or, at the very least, be more aligned with your beliefs or interests. Our legal team has already helped countless North Carolina residents with their estate planning plans and wants to help you, too. Contact our office to speak with a lawyer for assistance in creating a lasting legacy.

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