How to Give

Charitable Bequests

A charitable bequest is simply a distribution from your estate to a charitable organization through your last will and testament. There are different kinds of bequests. For each, you must use very specific language to indicate the precise direction of your assets and to successfully carry out your final wishes. In any charitable bequest, be sure to name the recipient accurately. A bequest to “The Cancer Society” might go to national headquarters when you meant it to go to the affiliate in your community.

Do you have an estate?

Your “estate” is the sum of your assets, including property you own, insurance policies, retirement accounts, cash on hand, etc. Wealthy people may have very large estates, but people who aren’t wealthy often have the resources to make a charitable bequest. If every adult in America made a will and included a bequest of just $100, billions of dollars would flow to charitable causes every year.

Below, we have listed some of the more common kinds of bequests and some bequest language. We always recommend that you carefully review the terms of your will with a professional trained in handling trusts and estates.

Common Bequests

General Bequests are legacies left to certain people or causes that come from the general value of the estate and are made by designating a specific dollar amount, a particular asset or fixed percentage of your estate to the cause of your choice.

General Bequest Language:

“I give, devise, and bequeath to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, the sum of $_______ (or a description of the specific asset), for the benefit of NAME OF CHARITY and its general purposes.”

Specific Bequests are made when a particular item or property is bequeathed for a designated purpose (i.e., instruments bequeathed to the local school district for use in music education; dollar funds to be used in the operation of a school or church.)

Specific Bequest Language:

“I give, devise, and bequeath to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, the sum of $_______ (or a description of the specific asset), for the benefit of NAME OF CHARITY to be used for the following purpose: (state of purpose). If at any time in the judgement of the trustees of NAME OF CHARITY it is impossible or impracticable to carry out exactly the designated purpose, they shall determine an alternative purpose closest to the designated purpose.”

Residuary Bequests are made when you intend to leave the residue portion of your assets after other terms of the will have been satisfied.

Residuary Bequest Language:

“All the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate, both real and personal, I give to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, for its general purposes.”

Contingency Bequests allow you to leave a portion of your estate to a particular charity if your named beneficiary does not survive you.

Contingency Bequest Language:

“I devise and bequeath the residue of the property, real and personal and wherever situated, owned by me at my death, to (name of beneficiary), if (she/he) survives me. If (name of beneficiary) does not survive me, I devise and bequeath my residuary estate to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, for its general purposes.”

Without a will or living trust, there are no mechanisms in place to make a bequest, so here are the steps you should take to make sure your wishes are made known.

  • Make a list of organizations or causes that you would like to support.
  • Make a detailed list of your assets (financial, real estate, vehicles, jewelry, collectibles, musical instruments, etc.)
  • Set up an appointment with your financial analyst, attorney, or planned giving officer at the organization you intend to support. These professionals will help guide you through the process.

Disclaimer: We are providing the illustrations of bequests and the information contained in this website for informational and educational purposes only. The examples of bequests and the information contained herein cannot be intended as legal or financial advice and should not be relied on as such. You should seek individual advice from your personal legal and financial advisors.

  • Only 42% of adults have wills.
  • Only 15% of these listed a charitable gift in 1996, which means 82% of the nation's wealthiest left nothing to charity.
  • The portion donated to charity is dropping. In 1976, 21.8% was donated, but in 1992, only 6.3% was given to charity.
  • If only 20% of Americans left a charitable bequest, current donations would double.
  • Begin your legacy today.

I have children and relatives. Shouldn't I leave my entire estate to them?

This is perhaps the number one cause for reluctance about making a bequest. The truth is that, depending on the current tax laws, leaving a gift of charity in your will may reduce the estate tax burden on your heirs significantly. You should consult with a financial advisor or attorney to learn how giving may actually benefit your family after you're gone.