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 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.