What To Do When Notified Of A Bequest

With all the trainings that go on about the many different ways to make a planned gift, the fact is approximately 75% of all planned gifts are made through bequests. Most often when bequests mature the charitable beneficiaries find out about it when they receive a notice of probate or a letter from the attorney or trustees in the case of a trust.

There are some steps that should be taken automatically.

1. Make appropriate notation to the deceased’s gift file in your database so that no one is offended by a letter or a solicitation to this person.
2. While you’re in the donor’s file, see if there are any relationships that will warrant a condolence letter.
a. You can also get this information from the attorney and if you write a note, you may wish to include some information on your organization to show why it meant so much to the deceased.
3. Check to see if the deceased was a member of your legacy/heritage society and remove their name (or list it in a more appropriate place).
4. Make sure any stipulations in the will such as designation to projects or memorial plaques are noted and attended to in a timely manner.

Administrative Communication:
1. You should contact the attorney of record to be sure you have the correct facts about the percentage or dollar amount or stipulated item(s)in the official document and also to let them know that you (or whoever) are the contact person for this matter for your organization and provide your email, phone number and correct address for future contact.
2. Request a copy of the last will if you don’t already have one. If you are mentioned in the will, you’re entitled to a copy.
3. Keep in mind that your charity is receiving the bequest because the deceased wished this to happen and do not give in to unreasonable requests or challenges by other beneficiaries or family members unless you are certain it is in the best interests of your organization. If you are unsure of a situation, you may want to check with some of the other charitable beneficiaries listed to see what they are doing, or with your organization’s legal advisor.

Tracking and Follow Up:
1. Start an estate file for the paperwork, notations, etc. and follow up regularly to see what’s going on with the processing.
a. In the case of large estates, partial distributions are not unusual, even prior to payment of taxes, although some funds are often held back for this purpose.
2. Review the accountings, as you receive them, to be sure unreasonable or inappropriate charges are not being made prior to distribution.
a. Don’t hesitate to question something you don’t understand or that looks out of place. It’s your right and responsibility to stay on top of things.
3. Answer ongoing correspondence promptly and don’t be shy about speaking with the attorney’s office if you have questions.
4. Once the bequest is completely paid to your organization, the file should be closed and eventually filed away. At this point, all plaques and other forms of recognition should be in place.

Additional Stewardship:
So often the deceased was someone known personally either through years of conversations and gifts, or through events or volunteer activities. If appropriate, you or someone from your nonprofit may choose to attend the funeral or memorial service to say goodbye to a person who cared enough to include your organization, along with other “family members”, in their last wishes.

You may want to remember the deceased in your newsletter as a way not only of recognizing the bequest, but also to let contributors know how important these types of gifts are to your organization. If this is done, I would encourage you to send the newsletter to surviving family members, along with a personal note – it may be an additional comfort to them and it’s a way to let them know more about your nonprofit’s work, and why it was important to their loved one.