We welcome a special guest to the blog, Stelter’s Senior Gift Planning Consultant, Lynn M. Gaumer, J.D. Lynn shares how to get the most out of National Estate Planning Awareness Week, Oct. 19-25, 2020. Her post was inspired by her article, “Let’s Talk Estate Plans: Oct. 19-25 Is National Estate Planning Awareness Week,” in Planned Giving Today. Read the October issue here.
More than ever, Americans are thinking about their estate plans.
Before the pandemic, it was estimated that more than two-thirds of Americans (68%) did not have a will. Now, things might be changing.
In the COVID-19 era, many Americans have shown great interest in their estate plans. Google Trends shows a significant increase in online searches of estate planning terms in recent months. In fact, according to Google Trends, in September of this year, interest in creating a will was the highest it has ever been. Online estate planning websites have also seen dramatic spikes in traffic.
In light of this renewed interest, it can’t hurt to use the third week in October to further emphasize the value of estate planning. Use the time to stay top-of-mind with your donors so you can continue to steward them.
One important fact to make clear: Estate planning doesn’t just mean creating a will or a trust. Let’s find out what else is involved…
Estate Planning Consists of at Least Four Key Documents
Let’s start with the basics. Any well-coordinated estate plan consists of at least four important documents:
- Last Will and Testament and/or Trust
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
- Living Will or Advanced Directive
Your will is the cornerstone of any estate plan. It formalizes your wishes on how and to whom you want your assets to be distributed upon your passing. Your powers of attorney allow you to nominate an agent who will speak on your behalf if you are incapacitated. A living will or advanced directive formalizes your wishes regarding medical care in the event you are terminally ill.
Estate Planning Also Means Setting Up Your Beneficiary Designations
A will only formalizes your wishes for assets left in your individual name. Assets such as life insurance or retirement plans pass outside of an individual’s will via a beneficiary designation. It is important to review these beneficiary designations so they mesh with your overall estate plan.
Estate Planning Involves Asset Titling, Too
Assets titled in joint tenancy pass outside an individual’s will and to the surviving joint tenant. It is easy to overlook these designations. A person’s will could say that everything goes to the children equally, but if a bank account, for example, is held in joint tenancy with just one child, it would pass only to that child.
Estate Planning Is Flexible
The “big four” documents mentioned earlier, along with beneficiary designations and titling, are all revocable. You can change them at any time. And if you would like to include a planned gift in your estate plan, you don’t have to part with the resources today. The most common planned gift—a gift in a will—is not only one of the easiest to make, it’s also revocable.
Estate Planning Is Easy
According to Giving USA’s Special Report (Fall 2019), 68% of respondents felt their estate planning process was “very easy” or “somewhat easy.” That was before the pandemic. Now it’s even easier. With many donors staying home and possibly going digital with their estate planning, many states have revised their estate planning execution requirements to allow for remote notarization and remote witnessing.
Estate Planning Is for Everyone
According to the Giving USA report, the average age for writing a first will is 44. More than half (53%) of all donors establish their first legacy gift at the same time as their first will. Between 2017 and 2030, an estimated $1.5 trillion to $6 trillion in charitable gifts will be designated to nonprofits in the U.S. In other words, retiree support will account for half of all giving by 2025. These numbers help make your case to build (or grow) your planned giving program.
Estate Planning Assures Your Assets Are Distributed as You Intend
Without an estate plan, the state in which you reside will decide how your assets are distributed. And no state will allow for gifts to charitable organizations under its intestacy laws. It is critical to formalize a plan for your assets, so they go where you want them to.
Estate Planning Protects Those You Love
Minor children, special needs children and, yes, even pets need to be addressed when preparing your estate planning documents. Special provisions in the estate planning documents will nominate a guardian or trustee to protect the minor and their assets. You may also need to make continued-care provisions for your beloved pet.
Estate Planning Is About Preparing for Incapacity
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is vitally important that older generations prepare for incapacity. One of the best gifts a parent can give a child as they grow to adulthood is guidance on planning for the unexpected. New adults need to know about these important documents, as do all competent adults of any age.
Estate Planning Helps Build a World Your Donors Wish to See
Making a planned gift enables donors to achieve their dreams of a legacy while keeping control of their finances, which is especially important in murky economic times. Show them how individual generosity can transform the world.
Whatever stage of life your supporters find themselves in, this is a great time to reach out to promote estate planning with your donors and encourage them to leave a gift to your organization in their will or trust. Here are a few things you can do to promote estate planning virtually in your area:
- Host an estate planning webinar with a local attorney.
- Add estate planning content to your website, newsletters and social media groups.
- Send an email to your donor base educating them about the importance of estate planning.
You can find more information about National Estate Planning Awareness Week here.
Estate Planning Starts with You
Many of us are still working from home. Travel and other activities are mostly on hold. Now is a great time to evaluate your own estate plan. If you already have one, review your documents to determine if you need an update. If you are among the majority of Americans who haven’t yet started the estate planning process, National Estate Planning Awareness Week is the perfect time to set up a meeting with an attorney to discuss your wishes. Your family members and heirs will be glad you did. You can then serve as a resource to your donors on their estate planning.
Did You Know?
It’s a good idea to review your will each year to check for any changes you might need to make because of a change in your life or that of a beneficiary. Such changes may include a birth, adoption, divorce or death.
Don’t Forget to Ask!
Many donors report that they haven’t left a gift to a nonprofit in their will simply because they have never been asked. So, before your donors meet with their estate planning attorney to create these important documents, ask them to consider making a gift to your organization in their will or living trust.
What are your plans for National Estate Planning Awareness Week? How will you be helping your donors plan their legacy? Let us know below. To find more tips, information and resources for this noteworthy week, click here.