While estate planning is crucial for promoting financial and generational wellness, the majority of American adults don’t have estate-planning documents — like wills, trusts, or health-care directives — in place. It’s common for many of us to avoid this process for a whole host of reasons, including procrastination, the misconception that it is strictly for older adults or those with lots of money or property, or simply because we don’t know where to start. For those of us who have not begun, it’s important to remember that a good planning process never really stops.
Once an estate plan is in place, most people wait for a major life transition — like the birth of a child, purchase of a home, serious illness, or death of a loved one — to trigger a review. The truth is it’s never too early to start thinking about estate planning, and once you’ve put your wishes in writing, it’s a good idea to revisit these documents at least every three to five years. Even if your life circumstances haven’t changed, a routine review provides an opportunity to reflect on other factors that may shift over time — ranging from the technical (tax laws) to the intangible (your priorities).
As you review your estate plan, consider whether your documents are aligned with your charitable intentions. A charitable fund can be an ideal recipient of estate gifts through a will or trust, or through a beneficiary designation on a qualified retirement plan or life-insurance policy. Whether you opt to create your own fund or supplement an existing endowment that aligns with your vision for long-term impact, the proceeds can be used to support the causes you care about most.
Just as there are plenty of reasons to review your estate plan on a regular basis, the same is true of a charitable legacy plan. Here are a few examples to consider:
1. Charities can change — If your plan includes direct support for your favorite nonprofits, a periodic review will allow you to include back-ups or contingencies in the event that a charity ceases its operations.
2. You can change — A periodic review will give you a chance to check in with yourself and reflect on what is most important to you. Is your answer the same now as it was five years ago? Will it be the same a decade from now?
3. The community can change — We need only look to the past to understand that the needs and opportunities that we are addressing today will not be the same as the needs and opportunities of tomorrow. While reviewing your plan, you may wish to consider how you can incorporate support that is flexible enough to respond to these changes.
Whether it is estate or legacy planning, these are ongoing steps we can all take throughout our lives to protect our loved ones, support future generations and preserve our legacies. Your local community foundation can help you develop — and maintain — a charitable legacy plan that complements your estate plan and evolves with your wishes.
Jan Lane is a senior philanthropic advisor at the Central New York Community Foundation. In her role, she supports charitable planning for individuals, families, and companies, and facilitates the Community Foundation’s legacy planning program. Contact her at email@example.com.