Planned giving can be an uncomfortable conversation for many; after all, it’s a conversation about what happens when we die. And talking about it within the context of our community – those touched by the deadliest gynecologic cancer – can feel awkward, if not downright off-putting.
But planned giving is an important fundraising component of any charity and can have a tremendous impact on an organization’s ability to grow and succeed in its mission.
As it turns out, making a will with philanthropic goals in mind can have a positive impact on individuals, family and loved ones, too.
Philanthropy can take many forms – making an online donation; attending a fundraising event; purchasing a product with charitable proceeds; donating to a Facebook challenge or birthday fundraiser; even making everyday purchases through AmazonSmile. These types of donations are all done in the moment, and the person making the donation participates in the transaction.
Planned giving, also known as legacy giving or estate planning, involves a donation made to a charity after someone passes away. And like its name suggests, it is something that is planned ahead of time, often in consultation with an attorney. It may take effect at death, but it’s part of one’s overall life planning.
Dana Mark, an estate attorney in New York City and a member of OCRA’s Board of Directors, explained that many people name a charity or charities in their estate as a way to donate to a cherished cause after their death. In doing so, they can take advantage of many tax attributes. For instance, “an IRA or 401(k) are perfect things to leave to a charity,” Dana said, because when left to a charitable organization, those assets would not be taxed. Whereas, if those accounts were left to a descendant, the heir may end up only getting .40 cents to the dollar because of estate taxes, depending on the state. In fact, sometimes, if a charity is named in an estate, the family may end up receiving more inheritance than if the estate was left to the family alone.
People can choose to leave a percentage of their estate to a charity, a specified amount, or a particular asset (like a piece of property or a retirement account.)
There is no right time to make a will. For some people, an illness or change in health may prompt the discussion. Whereas for others, it could be the birth of a child. And while the word ‘estate’ conjures up images of mansions and generations-old trust funds, you do not have to be wealthy to create a will. It is simply an aspect of financial planning.
Matt Miller lost his mother to ovarian cancer when he was just out of college. He created his first will when he turned 30. “I’ve always been a planner,” he said. He understands that talking about what happens after you die can be scary, but he believes having frank discussions about the future makes it less so. It can even become an educational process. “Seeing it as just one of those things you need to do in life, like an annual exam or housekeeping, makes it more approachable.”
He views his will as something he can update over time, as circumstances change, and it’s just part of ongoing maintenance. So when he turned 50 last year, he felt it was time to relook at his plans, and that’s when he chose to name OCRA as a beneficiary of his estate. “I’m not so much focused on my legacy as an individual person. I think what I’m more interested in is the organization, OCRA, to really continue its very good work.”
Andrea Lawrence is a healthy 71-year-old, whose mother passed away in 2017. It was then, dealing with her mother’s passing, that she realized she needed to think about her own estate. She doesn’t have children and decided that she wants to leave everything to charity. So she started thinking about the causes that are important to her. Helping those suffering from ovarian cancer was at the top of her list.
More than 20 years ago, Andrea had a brush with the disease when doctors found masses on her ovaries. Fortunately, surgery revealed that the tumors were benign, but the few days she spent in the gynecologic cancer ward of the hospital after her surgery left an indelible mark.
“I heard some horrible sounds down the hall,” she said. “I still hear them today.” She hopes that she can help alleviate someone else’s pain, while also helping scientists pursue better treatments and a cure. She also wants to help raise awareness of ovarian cancer, which she feels lies in the shadows of other diseases that get much more attention.
Certainly, a charity benefits from being named in someone’s will. But there are a number of non-material benefits both to the person planning their estate, and to the friends and family who are left to grieve. For some people, being able to reflect on a loved one’s gift to a cause that was dear to them can help with the loss, because that generosity can help to amplify a certain quality about that person – whether their bravery, their passion or simply their outlook.
An estate gift also offers an opportunity for the bereaved to share with others how special someone was while they were alive. It can bring comfort to those who survived a family or friend to know that the things a loved one cared about are being tended to in their absence, and can serve as a catalyst for discussing philanthropic values with future generations.
Margaret Banas lost her beloved aunt in 2021. Shirley Johnson was like a mother and a mentor to her, and a strong, successful woman who built a fortune before passing of ovarian cancer. In describing Shirley, Margaret said, “she was never one for attention. Absolutely not. But she was one for making an impact.”
When Shirley was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019, she asked her niece – who is an attorney like Shirley was – to help her plan her estate. That was something that Shirley would impress upon people she knew: plan. If you do find out that you’re sick, do all the preplanning before it becomes more difficult. “Get your house in order,” Margaret said, “physically, but also financially.”
Spending that time preparing her estate gave Shirley a sense of control that she felt she otherwise did not have. “It really gave her peace to have that stuff figured out,” Margaret said. Furthermore, it inspired others to have these important conversations about their own lives and assets. “It doesn’t make it morbid,” Margaret said.
In the last few years of her life, Shirley found great comfort and camaraderie in OCRA’s support groups led by an oncology social worker. “It’s hard to quantify the emotional support she got from that group. She was always saying she thought they were such amazing women,” Margaret shared. “She lived two years more than she was supposed to. And she attributed it to her interaction with these capable, smart women who weren’t ready to give up. Or they were lucky to get past it and were willing to share.”
Shirley’s gift to OCRA will not only ensure that other patients and survivors continue to receive the same support that she found so valuable, but will fund lifesaving research as well.
Matt looks at planned giving as a way to deepen his relationship with a cause and an organization that is dear to him. “The way I see estate planning is more about a lifelong relationship with OCRA. I’m on the board, I’m on the executive committee. I might not be on them forever,” he said. “What I hope is that I have that lifelong relationship with the organization regardless of my role within it.”
Pat Goldman is a 30-year ovarian cancer survivor. She, too, has chosen to leave part of her estate to OCRA, and sees it as an investment. “It’s an insurance policy,” she said, “to see that the things that you care about live on.”
Choosing a charity to name in one’s estate is a thoughtful, deliberative process. Pat said that when you “are passionate about a particular cause, you want to make sure it continues beyond you.” But she believes that one should look not only at the mission of the organization, but at the staffing and strategic plans, to ensure that the organization’s objectives line up with your own.
For Andrea, it came down to a Google search. “I remember googling and there were some other organizations, but I could see that they were just local. And I wanted the larger picture, the main one. I wanted to reach the head people that would make decisions about where the money would go for research,” she said. “I never looked at it as a legacy. I just thought that whatever dollars I could contribute to that research would be helpful.”
Margaret, in discussing how she and her Aunt Shirley found the right ovarian cancer charity, said, “We researched you guys and how you’re using your money and your ratings. The fact that you have three different components [research, advocacy, patient support] … it’s like one-stop shopping.”
And Matt spoke about the work OCRA has done … and is poised to do. “We’ve done a lot of things so well. But we’re at the tipping point of moving to the next stage. And I want to help the organization do that.”
Whether naming OCRA as a beneficiary, or another cause altogether, Dana counsels her clients to not be afraid of planned giving. “Everyone who has any charitable inclinations should consider it.”
People plan estates thinking about the next generation – whether children and grandchildren, friends or loved ones – wanting to leave them well cared for, wanting to support them in one’s absence. Choosing to leave part of your estate to a charitable organization is no different; you do it with the hope of wanting to see something that you cherish continue to grow and thrive.
Need help creating an estate plan? We’ve partnered with FreeWill: a free online resource that guides you through the process of making or updating a legally valid will, including the option of leaving a gift to OCRA, in just 20 minutes. This is an easy way to advocate for patients and support survivors for years to come.
If you have an IRA, 401(k), life-insurance policy, or any other assets not included in your will, you must plan your beneficiaries for them separately. You can use this secure online tool to help you make your plans and even designate OCRA as a beneficiary of these kinds of assets.
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