Half of Americans don’t have a will. Why does this matter? If you die without an estate plan, the laws of the state where you live will dictate where your assets are distributed under legal proceedings supervised by the probate court. This prevents you from leaving bequests of your money and property to family members and other loved ones according to the terms you prefer. Plus, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to give money upon your death to the charities you’ve supported during your lifetime.

Even if you don’t have a will, though, chances are, you do have an “estate plan” of sorts. Whether you know it or not, you’ve created a plan through beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies and retirement plans, joint ownership designations on bank accounts, and transfer-on-death designations on stock or deeds to real estate. These beneficiary and ownership designations supersede both state laws and a written will. Many people don’t realize this.

To ensure that your wishes are followed after you die, including making bequests to charities, you should seek the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can develop a full estate plan for you that includes not only a will, but also a revocable “living” trust if avoiding probate is a priority for you. You can also sign durable powers of attorney so that a loved one can manage your affairs if you become incapacitated, as well as a living will if you don’t want to be kept alive on life support under certain circumstances. Finally, if you have minor children, an estate plan allows you to name a guardian for the children in the event of your death, instead of the court appointing someone.

Because you are philanthropic, creating or updating your estate plan is a great way to implement your charitable giving plans. The team at the community foundation is happy to work with you and your legal counsel to navigate how your fund at the community foundation figures into your estate plans and goals to leave a legacy.