Written on August 15, 2012 – 6:00 am | by Malcolm Burrows
Over the last 20 years, a number of donors have expressed feelings of guilt to me about making a bequest to charity. In most cases, these donors have no children, but they typically have siblings or nieces and nephews. The question on their conscience is the same. Is it OK for me to give my estate to charity?
The cause of this anxiety is a deep-rooted cultural assumption that our estates naturally belong to our families. This is reflected to varying degrees in different cultures, legal systems (civil code is more pronounced than common law), and in provincial family law and estate legislation. While most laws rightly focus on the support of dependents and partners, the sense of obligation can be generalized to include extended family members.
The mixed feelings are understandable. Most donors do not have first-hand experience with charitable bequests. Some view charity as a default beneficiary, not a first choice. They articulate their desire to donate to charity, but also they need to work through their misgivings – to give voice to the lurking cultural taboo. They are seeking reassurance that they are making an appropriate choice that is consistent with their life and values.
We are going to see more would-be donors quietly facing these issues. There are more Canadians without children. Families are geographically spread-out and often disconnected. Affluence is rising – at least in concentrated pockets. Philanthropy is a valid choice that needs no apology.