Advice: Drafting Your Will

How to give to charities

Dear Ruth,

My wife and I want to know more about drafting our wills. Specifically, how can we make gifts to our colleges and a couple of LGBT organizations that we’re both involved in?


Dear Laurie,

Love your forward thinking! While estate planning is rarely something one looks forward to, planning now will ensure that your property is distributed according to your wishes.

If you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to NY’s intestacy laws. Charities are not included in the list of those who will inherit from you under these laws.

By drafting your will, you will help your named executor, the person you name in your will as the one responsible for distributing your property. And by remembering one or more charities in your will, you’ll help secure their future.

You can leave a bequest to your favorite charities in your will by designating a specific dollar amount or percentage of your estate, for example: “I give the sum of $________ [or _____ percent of my residuary estate] to [name and address of charity] for its general purposes.”

The ‘residuary estate’ is legal-ese for the remainder of your estate after all specific bequests (monetary gifts to individuals or charities), taxes, debts and other expenses have been paid.

You can also name a charity as beneficiary of your IRA, other retirement plan or life insurance policy by listing the charity on the beneficiary designation form.

Be assured that all charitable bequests, regardless of size, will help to ensure that they are around to serve others in the future.

If you choose to advise the charity’s executive director or development director that you are intending to make a gift through your will, IRA or life insurance, you may receive some nice ‘perks’ in your lifetime, such as being invited to join the charity’s legacy society.

The LGBT Community Center, for example, created The Powsner-Cooperberg Legacy Society named for past presidents Steven Powsner and Irving Cooperberg who died of AIDS. Legacy donors are invited to special programs throughout the year as a way to keep them abreast of new developments at the Center.

In addition, there may be tax benefits. Depending on the size of your estate at the time of your passing, leaving a charitable gift may reduce or eliminate federal and/or NYS estate taxes.

All in all, estate planning is an empowering act. Bravo for taking this important step.

Reach Ruth at or by visiting
*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.

What Do You Think?