Years ago I worked at a charitable foundation of a large cancer hospital. One day I was visited by an older patient who wanted to donate shares owned by his late wife. He was her executor and sole beneficiary, and two years after her death he had not initiated the administration of her estate. Clearly overwhelmed, he believed a gift would help simplify his life and generate some tax savings. In addition, he wanted to leave the residue of his estate to the foundation.
Over a period of months we tried to make the stock gift a reality, but there were incomplete financial records, lost share certificates and, ultimately, lack of clear authority to make the donation. The donor also had specific ideas about what the gift should do, which lead to side discussions about whether or not his wishes could be achieved. Meanwhile, he said he was working with his (real estate) lawyer to revise his will.
And then one day we got the call: our prospective donor was dead. The gift of stock was incomplete. His will was not executed, or even drafted. Turns out, his lawyer didn’t realize how sick he was, and clearly the donor didn’t either. He died intestate.
Ever since this experience I have encouraged older clients with long-term and unclear charitable intent to complete their wills before making an immediate gift. The will is the fail-safe mechanism. It clarifies intent and puts plans are in place to distribute the estate.
In my current practice, I recommend to clients who are procrastinating about their will due to uncertainty about charities to establish an immediately distributable “legacy” fund in Aqueduct Foundation. This provides two immediate benefits: a) a completed will with a gift to charity; b) the ability to change the charities and refine intent over time by updating the Aqueduct fund deed. Clients appreciate the peace of mind provided by finished will and the flexibility to continue working on their final plans.