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Planned Giving: Is it time to create or update your will?

Photo by Kari Heistad

Did you know that 56% of Americans either do not have an estate plan or have one that does not meet their current circumstances? This is an interesting statistic since surveys show more than 75% of Americans believe it is important to have a competent estate plan that adequately and accurately distributes their assets to their loved ones and favorite charitable organizations following their death.

Depending on your situation, here are some steps that you can take to make sure your estate plans will work for you.


“I do not have a will.” Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the rules established by your state of residence. Those rules may not be in line with your wishes, and, in some cases, they may even be the opposite of what you desire. Your state’s distribution plan will not include charitable gifts. To avoid this situation, consider the following simple steps:

  • Make a list of all your assets including real estate, investments, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and personal property such as cars, jewelry, boats, and collections.

  • Make a list of the individuals whom you would like to remember with a gift from your estate.

  • Make a list of the charitable organizations that have impacted your life that you would like to remember with a gift from your estate.

You are well on your way—those three simple lists are the building blocks of every will. Your attorney will be grateful because this allows them to prepare your will quickly and efficiently.


“I have a very old will that needs to be updated.” An outdated will can be as unfortunate as having no will at all. It is highly likely that many of your circumstances have changed, some of which you could not even fathom when you created your original will. To make sure you have a will that accurately reflects your current wishes, update the three lists above and consider these additional steps:

  • Review the beneficiary designations of your retirement plans and life insurance policies to make sure they are aligned with the rest of your will.

  • If you have a donor-advised fund, make sure you have completed a beneficiary-designation form so that those assets go to the charities you wish to support.

  • Make sure your executor is still capable of handling that task. Name a contingent executor should your original executor not be able to fulfill those duties.


“My will is up to date.” It is important to continually monitor your circumstances so that your current will is accurate and does not quickly become outdated. For example, if you have children, what changes should you make when one or more of them are married, have children of their own, get divorced, or become incapacitated? How quickly should you make those changes? Another example is when your favorite charity launches a new program that you think will set the course for its future. Should you modify your bequest to the charity to take that into account?

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