How estate planning can build a charitable legacy

July 19, 2022

It can be comforting to know that, through estate planning, the assets you leave behind will be distributed according to your wishes, and that your legacy will match your intent. An estate plan is made up of a number of legal documents—such as wills and living trusts—that set forth how assets should be distributed after your death, but also how health and financial decisions should be handled during your lifetime if you’re incapacitated. With August as National Make a Will Month, it’s the perfect time to review your will or to create one.

Why is a will important? If you die without a will, your wishes regarding distribution of your assets may not be carried out. A will can be helpful for community members at all income levels, especially in passing wealth to heirs at the lowest possible cost. Wills can help families retain important assets—like primary residences—to bolster the economic stability of future generations. 

Wills and other estate documents also play an important role in leaving assets to charitable organizations. Studies have shown that 70% of families tend to lose their fortune by the second generation, while 90% lose it by the third generation. Therefore, many families are now including charitable provisions in their wills to leave assets to causes they believe will have a longer lasting impact to our community—in addition to or in place of leaving assets to family members. This can be particularly appealing to people who have no direct heirs. Beneficiary designations provide a straightforward way to leave assets to a nonprofit outside your will, without updating your will. Accounts to consider for a beneficiary designation include retirement plans, bank accounts, and life insurance policies.
Estate attorneys also play a key role in planned giving. Estate attorneys can help provide compassionate, thoughtful, and sensitive counsel to families and individuals planning for their future and their legacies. This includes helping clients create wills along with other legal documents like Power of Attorney (POA) designations and medical directives. In the development of these documents, estate attorneys often uncover causes their clients are passionate about and want to leave money to upon their death. With this knowledge, estate attorneys can be instrumental in connecting clients with the appropriate resources to make their planned giving aspirations a reality.
“Start the conversation sooner than later. We don’t know when we’re going to be gone, so even if you only loosely know you want to make a charitable gift, start the conversation about your wishes now.” - Amy Symons
Once estate attorney Amy Symons with Bryant Ritsick Symons & Ratner identifies a client’s desire to leave a charitable legacy, she often connects them with The Denver Foundation to explore their goals and develop a concrete plan. Working together with the client, The Denver Foundation may suggest allocating the client’s donation to pre-existing foundation funds, managing funds a client would like to leave to a smaller or less sophisticated nonprofit, or creating a customized fund used at the client’s direction.
For example, one of Symons’ clients wanted to provide funding to a specific university and group of students. The client expressed uncertainty in the university’s capacity to manage a donation as she wanted. Symons introduced her to The Denver Foundation, which set up a scholarship fund and managed its disbursement according to the client’s wishes.
Symons has developed a strong relationship with The Denver Foundation to help her clients based on the foundation’s skill in developing plans even when a client may only have a vague charitable giving intent. She also values the foundation’s experience and receptivity in providing charitable giving options to a wide range of donors at varying monetary levels. After dedicating 20 years to estate planning—and making a difference in the lives of her clients, to their families and to the Denver community—Symons’ advice regarding planned giving is to: “Start the conversation sooner than later. We don’t know when we’re going to be gone, so even if you only loosely know you want to make a charitable gift, start the conversation about your wishes now.”
For more information about creating a legacy through your estate plan, please contact Rachel Spory-Leek, Gift Planning Officer,