If you don’t have a will, get it done. That’s the message of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, an organization that’s designated the month of May as Leave a Legacy Month. Calvin Fong, chair of the national program titled Leave a Legacy, said the program’s goal is to raise awareness of the importance of having a will, as well as the idea that people consider leaving a gift to charity in their will.
“If you die without a will you really have no control over how your estate gets distributed – legislation will dictate that instead,” Fong told the Independent. “Without a will, for example, you have no way of leaving a gift to your favorite charity or creating a trust for your spouse. Having a will ensures your wishes are articulated and carried out after your death.”
Just six weeks ago there were changes to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) with important implications. The minimum age to create a will has been lowered from 19 to 16, wills created prior to marriage are still valid after marriage, and the courts have been granted authority to recognize non-compliant documents as wills, and ensure that a deceased person’s last wishes will be respected. For example, legislation now allows for the possibility that electronic versions of wills might be recognized. “The changes modernize legislation created over 100 years ago and streamlines things for the public,” Fong explained.
Tax savings is another reason to consider creating a will. Gifting money or assets to charity makes your estate eligible for a tax deduction upon your death, while creating a trust in your estate allows you to defer taxation of certain assets.
If considering gifting money to charity, start by figuring out what you want your personal legacy to be, advised Marcie Flom, director of the Jewish Community Foundation, which is housed at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. JCF works one-on-one with donors to create their legacies, using bequests, gifts of life insurance, gifts of cash and in-kind donations, annuities and charitable trusts. To date, it has 330 endowment funds and assets of $42 million that it manages on behalf of donors in the community.
With gifts of life insurance, donors name JCF as the owner and beneficiary. Upon their death, the proceeds of the policy enter an endowment fund they created during their lifetime, supporting causes that were important to them. “Some donors have various life insurance policies and discover that they no longer need them, so they decide to donate them to the foundation,” Flom explained.
With bequests, individuals stipulate a gift to the foundation in their will to support those causes. “It can take various forms, such as a set amount or a percentage of their estate,” Flom said. “It’s very personal, and usually people meet with me to talk about what they want to do, the idea being that we want to help increase your current income or estate value, while also creating a lasting legacy for the community.”
That legacy can involve donations to Jewish and non-Jewish causes, as the JCF distributes funds to both. And there’s a broad range of donors, Flom said, with some funds established with as little as $1,000, or no assets at all if it’s a planned gift. “Some donors make a modest contribution to their fund each year to build it over time,” she explained, “but legacy planning is not limited to those with means. Anyone can establish a fund in any amount and build it over time or establish a fund with a planned future gift.”
Some individuals use their legacy to involve and engage their children in active philanthropy. “They work with us on their philanthropy during their lives, but also use it as a method to engage their kids to take over that philanthropy after they’re gone,” Flom said. The children continue their parents’ legacy of lifetime giving by working together to direct support to their parents’ favorite charities and/or the charities that they are passionate about.
For more information, call the Jewish Community Foundation at 604-257-5100 or visit jewishcommunityfoundation.com. For more on Leave a Legacy Month, WESA changes and more, visit leavealegacy.ca or cra-arc.gc.ca.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.