Bequests: common mistakes and roadblocks

By James W. Hodgson, Senior Associate Director, Bequest Administration, Office of Gift Planning

Your bequest to the University—a gift under a last will or trust or through life insurance or retirement plans—provides critical support for University priorities and initiatives that align with your interests.

Yet several potential problems, both in the estate planning process and during administration, can jeopardize the timely fulfillment of a charitable bequest. Here’s a checklist to help you avoid these problems.

Does your bequest accurately reflect your intent?

It is important that the language of your bequest matches your charitable objectives. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does the program, area of research, or fund that you wish to support still exist? If yes, does your bequest provide what happens in the event it ceases to exist?
  • Can the University effectively administer the bequest in keeping with your stated intent? Is the amount sufficient to accomplish your goal to endow a scholarship, fund a professorship, or establish a lecture series?
  • Have you spoken with the school or unit that will receive your bequest to ensure that it can be used in your preferred manner?

Can the University accept the asset that you wish to give?

In some cases, donors wish to leave noncash assets to the University, such as real estate, artwork, artifacts, books, musical instruments, or intangible assets, including closely held business interests. Before finalizing your estate plan, determine whether the University can accept your particular asset and, if so, how it may be used in keeping with the University’s educational mission and your philanthropic intent.

Are your named fiduciaries experienced?

The individuals charged with administering your estate will be tasked with marshaling accounts, paying creditors and expenses, liquidating assets, and communicating with beneficiaries, including charities. Naming fiduciaries who have previous experience or other relevant skills may result in a timelier and more cost-efficient process, maximizing the remaining funds meant for the beneficiaries.

Have you discussed your charitable bequest with family?

Informing your close family members and fiduciaries of your intended charitable bequest eliminates surprises and fosters a shared understanding of your motivation and commitment to support the University through your estate.

The Office of Gift Planning is here to discuss your intentions and provide specific bequest language to ensure that your wishes will be met.

Contact the Office of Gift Planning.