The Role of the Lawyer

As troubleshooter, advisor and draftsman, a lawyer will be involved in the largest gifts with the most complications stemming from asset selection. They serve as “Dr. No” when donors are determining the size of the gift or, perhaps, whether to give at death rather than during lifetime. Their only motive is protecting all interests of the client.

Some development professionals do not understand why lawyers “do not promote their charity” even when serving on a planned giving advisory board. Nor do some understand why most will not discount their fees “in the name of charity” despite many being capitalized and endowed well. Lawyers as a group are predisposed to neither support nor oppose a charity. Lawyers will rarely recommend a single charity to a client. They might provide a list of many worthwhile charities, but they will always be sensitive to conflict of interest or the mere appearance of it.

Their mindset is to provide maximum flexibility for the client while securing desired income and/or transfer tax savings. Unless their client is presenting a compelling reason for the irrevocability of a beneficiary designation, such as credit for a capital campaign, they will permit revocability of any beneficiaries. Clients’ philanthropic interests change, and retaining revocability accommodates change.

While any specimen documents from the charity might be helpful to the lawyer, they will most likely be using their forms, which they feel are time-tested.

Notwithstanding the professional constraints on lawyers, they do want to see their communities thrive and will support charity. So keeping them abreast of your organization’s mission is worth it. Keeping them informed of tax and estate changes, especially general practice lawyers, is also a good way to connect with the legal community.

By Prof. Christopher P. Woehrle, J.D., LL.M
 

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