All About Estates

Charitable Bequests in Wills

This blog was written by Courtney Lanthier, Law Clerk at Fasken LLP.


We often hear in the news of beloved celebrities passing away after years of lucrative careers. It’s also common to speculate as to how their estate will be distributed.

Many celebrities have either left, or plan to leave, the majority of their estate to various charities. Bob Barker, who passed away last month, has left his estate to be distributed to more than 40 different charities, most of which include charities for animal rights. Betty White, who passed away in December of 2021, left the bulk of her estate to various charities benefitting animals as well. Other celebrities such as Daniel Craig, Bill Gates and George Lucas[1] have already indicated that they intend to leave the majority of their estate to charities, and little or nothing to their children or family members.

Despite having less assets than these celebrities have, donations to charities should still be considered as a viable option. For many clients, especially in the case when a spouse, children and issue have all passed away and there are no remaining family members to inherit their estate (i.e. brothers/sisters or nieces/nephews), we often see them leaving specific sums of money or a portion of their estate to charities.

When we are including charitable bequests and gifts in Wills for our clients, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Ensure you have the proper name of the charity – utilize online resources such as the Government of Canada website , or the yearly published Canadian Donor Guide to find the proper, legal name of the charity. Clients may not always provide you with the correct name, so it is important to make sure you are doing your own due diligence.
  • To avoid confusion, consider adding in the Charitable Registration Number to the Will.
  • Check the website for the charity – these websites will sometimes provide a specific “Donation” page that sets out information on how best to articulate a gift to the charity in a Will. When in doubt, reach out directly to the charity for further clarification.
  • Make sure you have the correct branch – some charities, such as United Way, have different branches for different areas of the province. In some cases, there is a Foundation set up where donations and bequests should be directed. Ensuring the Will names the proper entity can help to avoid confusion or issues down the line for executors when making distributions.
  • If the client wants the gift to go to a specific branch of research or a particular fund that has been set up, that should also be included as a wish and desire in the Will.
  • Consider adding in a provision that directs the trustees to make the bequest to any successor charity, or a charity with similar objectives, if the original charity is no longer in existence at the time of the client’s death.

Whether it’s $100, $1,000 or $1,000,000, leaving anything to a charity in a Will is a great way for clients to ensure that their money has gone to a good cause, and that they are still making a difference in the lives of so many (people and animals alike) even after they have passed.




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  1. Charlene Taylor

    September 15, 2023 - 1:51 pm

    Always an option to contact the charity directly to get specific will wording, charitable registration number and legal name and address and speak directly with the Planned Giving or Gift and Estate Planning professional……great article…..charlene

    • Malcolm Burrows

      September 21, 2023 - 6:12 pm

      Hi Charlene – Great point. There are two sides to the charitable bequest! Malcolm

  2. Peter S

    September 15, 2023 - 2:44 pm

    Is there a difference in the tax treatment if the will simply names a charity as a beneficiary of specific assets of the estate ( example principal residence) or must it specify that the trustees donate the assets to the charity to qualify as a donation for tax purposes.

    • Malcolm Burrows

      September 21, 2023 - 6:17 pm

      Peter – Generally there are no additional tax benefits derived from naming a specific asset of the estate as the estate donation to charity. There are some exceptions. For example, appreciated public securities donations are exempt from capitals gains, but it is better to give the executor discretion to donate in kind, rather than name a security in the will. Principal residences are not taxable, and so make no sense to distribute in kind – and most charities want cash! Malcolm

  3. Peggy Killeen

    September 15, 2023 - 3:53 pm

    Thank you for a good article. From the charity perspective I’d recommend that if there is to be designation or restriction of the gift that the charity be contacted to be sure the person’s intentions can be honoured.

  4. Josie

    September 15, 2023 - 5:25 pm

    I am new to this blog and love the brevity of each post. Short, sweet and to the point!

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