Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’m in my 70s and reasonably well off. I don’t have family whom I feel
a need to subsidize with my assets after my demise. I’m not a Grinch,
but the meshpochah are well enough. I’ve begun thinking about death
more lately, after a brush with cancer. I am in remission and according
to my doctor I could have a long life. But I could also die a lot sooner
and all the money I have saved could be doing the needy some good. I
want to put my money where my mouth and votes have been going
for the last fifty years. I know that once I raise this issue with
everyone from my synagogue to non-profits that I will have to fend off
the planned giving managers. Do you have any pointers about how to
open the door without inviting a stampede?
This is a great time to talk to your attorney. That’s the only way your
wishes can be legally protected. You can call, ask, get information, and
indicate your wishes. But a legal document is your best protection that
they’ll be observed. Though even then, unless someone cares enough
to monitor and enforce, you have to assume you’re giving a gift to an
organization you trust.
Choosing wisely is an important first step. In a preliminary call to
every group you’d consider giving money to, ask for a meeting with a
planned giving rep. Ask what minimum makes it worth their time to
talk to you regarding possible conditions attached to bequests. Explain
you’re thinking of a donation in the $10-50K range. (I just made up
those numbers; adjust as needed.) Say you have specific opinions
about uses – e.g. direct assistance to those in need, a library fund,
social justice policy, whatever matters to you. Explain you still need
your money now, but that you’re happy to share once you’re gone.
Ask what guarantees they will give that your wishes will be honored
and a bequest will not disappear into a general use fund. Ask if they
have specific language for you to put into your will. Then narrow the
targets to make the money used most effectively. Kudos to you for
putting your assets where your heart is.