Seek legal guidance before leaving bequests to charity


Laura Stairs Head ShotMaking a bequest to charity can create a meaningful legacy, but there are potential pitfalls that a good lawyer can help you avoid, Windsor trusts and estates lawyer Laura Stairs tells

Generosity in death is something expressed by people from all walks of life, says Stairs, an associate at Shibley Righton LLP.

“While testators are still living, they might be concerned about resources, or perhaps it’s prohibitive to give to charity while they’re retired and don’t know how much money they’re going to need,” she says. “But upon death, you have an opportunity to give something back to an organization that matters to you.”

Stairs describes some common issues in charitable giving that require a lawyer’s help.

Attaching conditions. She says clients frequently want to put conditions on their charitable bequests. They may have volunteered or worked for an organization doing specific projects, so they allocate their gift on the basis of that work continuing, she says.

“When conditions like that are put on a gift it creates the risk of the charity not being able to accept it if they’re unable to meet that condition, for example, if that project is no longer in operation,” Stairs says.  

A lawyer can add language to the will to reflect your wish for the gift to go to a specific project, but if for some reason this condition cannot be met, the charity’s board of directors can still accept it and make a determination as to how to spend it, she says.

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