How to Name a Charity in a Will

By John Cromwell

When planning an estate, many people want to leave something for their favorite charity or cause. Probate law -- the rules regarding the management and distribution of a decedent’s estate -- offers many different options to support charitable causes. You can donate assets without conditions or you can donate property in a way that ensures that it is used exclusively as you want it. Probate law is defined by the state where you are a resident, so the requirements for executing a charitable bequest may vary.

Unrestricted or Restricted

There are two general ways you can leave money to charity. The first is without any restrictions. To make an unrestricted gift, you would write in the will that you donate a cash amount, asset or percentage of your overall estate to the charity. The second method is a restricted gift, which is subject to a condition. To make a restricted gift, you would use the same language in the will as with an unrestricted gift, but add that the property must be used for a specific purpose. You would then add whatever conditions or restrictions you want associated with the gift. Common restrictions include limiting the gift to a certain use or prohibiting the gift from being used in a certain way.

Residual Estate

Another common way to make a gift is by promising a charity the residual estate. Using this strategy, you make specific gifts to your relatives and other beneficiaries, and whatever remains goes to the charity. This method ensures that your charitable gifts do not affect what your other beneficiaries receive. You can also make a contingent gift of the residual estate. This is done by saying that the charity gets the residual estate only if something occurs. Generally, a contingent donation of the residual estate is made when the drafter has a spouse. The will would grant the spouse the residual estate, but if the spouse dies before the person writing the will, the residual estate would go to the charity.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Testamentary Charitable Trusts

A testamentary charitable trust is a device that allows the drafter of a will to support both his beneficiaries and favorite charity. To create such a trust, the will provides that when the drafter dies some of his property would go to fund a trust. The will must identify the beneficiaries of the trust and the person to act as trustee and manage the trust asset. Either for a period of years or for the duration of the beneficiaries’ life, the individual beneficiaries would get the benefit of the trust assets. Once that time passes, the will must state that whatever remains of the trust goes to the charity.

Cy Pres

If a gift is made to a charity that no longer exists, the "cy pres" doctrine states that the assets that was supposed to go the defunct charity goes to another organization that has the closest purpose to the original association. So if someone left money to cancer research but cancer had been cured, then the money in the will would go to researching another disease. The cy pres doctrine is not applied in every state. In some states, if the charity is defunct, its gift is redistributed amongst the other beneficiaries. In other states, if the will shows a general desire to donate to charity and not just donate to that specific charity, cy pres will be applied.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Leave an Entire Estate to Various Charities

References

Related articles

Does a Verbal Gift Supersede a Will?

A will is a legal document that dictates how the property of a deceased person is to be distributed amongst his friends and families. It is drafted by the deceased before his death, and it may identify that specific assets go to specific people. During the time between when a person drafts a will and when he dies, the will maker may make verbal gifts of property, which are referenced in the will, to other people. As a result, there may be some confusion regarding who receives the property -- the person named in the will -- or the person who received the verbal gift.

Can You Make Your Church a Beneficiary of Your IRA?

If you've planned well enough that you'll have money remaining in your individual retirement arrangement when you pass, you can decide who will receive the account after your death. Leaving the IRA to your church is not only possible, but it also has a number of potential tax benefits for both your estate and your heirs.

How to Make a Will Null and Void

A person generally drafts a will to ensure that when she dies, her property goes to the people she wants to have it most. Obviously, these determinations are based on a variety of circumstances, including personal preference. However, as time passes, circumstances can change in such a way that you may want to name different beneficiaries. This may be due to a falling out between you and the original beneficiaries or the original beneficiaries passing away. To change the terms of how your property will be distributed, you may choose to make your prior will null and void.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Can a Charitable Remainder Trust Be Set Up by a Will?

A charitable remainder trust is designed to allow you and your beneficiaries to benefit from your assets during your ...

California Law Concerning Last Wills When a Beneficiary Is Deceased

In some cases, a will may leave assets to someone who is no longer living. If this occurs, this provision in the will ...

What Happens When One of the Heirs in a Will Dies?

When a person plans for their estate, she generally identifies which people she wants to receive her property in her ...

Common Disaster Provisions in Wills

In the parlance of wills and insurance policies, a common disaster provision is language which directs how assets or ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED