As planned gift fundraisers trying to meet or exceed goals, the focus is often on securing gift intentions. But that’s just part of your role. An important and challenging duty is bringing your donor’s intentions to actuality when they have passed away so their legacy gift objectives can be realized.
Unfortunately, this is not an easy process, and you may face delays, the reasons for which are entirely beyond your control.
Recently, I’ve seen unresponsive trustees, an estate where the predeceased husband’s estate had yet to settle, lost beneficiaries, stocks still held in certificate form and stored in various locations and a client named as beneficiary of a payable on death account that they knew nothing about.
Each donor is unique, as is each estate. Having internal procedures can alleviate some of the frustration involved in estate settlement. Ideally, you have already spoken with and documented your donor’s wishes, and you have established communication with the estate representatives. Although this practice can go a long way toward making your job easier, sometimes it’s not enough, but there are other things you can do.
Here are a few valuable tips I’ve learned to help move forward what can be a messy process:
- If there are multiple charitable beneficiaries, combine forces with them. A collective and strong voice pushing the process forward will benefit each of you. Schedule a monthly call for updates. You will often find that you already know these colleagues—if a donor is interested in the environment, for example, his plans may benefit multiple organizations in that sector whose representatives you likely know.
- Find the assistant or paralegal who is handling the case. Often, the named attorney is a high-level partner in the firm who is not handling the day-to-day administration of the estate. Much of estate settlement work is administrative and assigned to an associate or paralegal. This person will likely be more responsive and have the needed information readily available.
- Stay in touch with the family (assuming you already have a relationship). This goes without saying out of kindness and stewardship but also because, from a practical standpoint, the family may be able to tell you of a delay you wouldn’t know about. (For example, the child from a prior marriage is not responding because of family tensions). Generally, the family is as eager to have the estate settled as you are.
- Finally, schedule a regular call, and email with the trustee until the estate is settled. While this may feel uncomfortable, being “the squeaky wheel” can produce the results you are ultimately working toward.
Kristin Croone, JD, is a senior consultant who assists her clients with estate settlement as well as provides advice and develops strategies for successful gift planning programs. Connect with Kristin at email@example.com or via LinkedIn.
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From our six decades of compiling the Sharpe Knowledgebase ®, we know that most bequest donors will never let you know that you are included in their estate plans. Often, the first time you are aware of a legacy gift is when the executor contacts you.
Knowing when your donors pass away not only helps you make your communication mailings more efficient and effective, but it also helps you identify estates you may need to follow up with, particularly if your donor did inform you of their bequest intention.
Sharpe can flag the deceased donors in your donor file so you can update your marketing plans and be prepared for estate gifts.
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