4 common myths about charitable gifts to Duke made through a will or retirement account

  1. Naming Duke as a beneficiary of my will or retirement account is a complicated process.

    Gifts made through a will or retirement account are among the simplest, most straightforward ways to leave a lasting legacy at Duke. With only a couple of sentences in your will, you can designate a percentage of your estate (or a specific dollar amount) to support Duke University. Sample bequest language is available on our website for review by you and your attorney.

    It is also easy to make a legacy gift to Duke using retirement account assets. You may do this by completing a beneficiary designation form provided by your retirement plan administrator. Often, this process can be completed online in a matter of minutes.

    Bequests and retirement plan designations do not require any transfer of assets during your lifetime. These types of gifts may be changed or revoked at any time, so you can rest easy knowing you will be able to access your assets if your circumstances change.

  2. ​If I name Duke as a beneficiary of my will or retirement account, my gift will be used entirely at the discretion of the university.

    Duke makes every effort to ensure your gift is used in accordance with your wishes once it is ultimately received by the university. If you name Duke as the beneficiary of a retirement account, you can direct the use of your gift by completing and returning a Confirmation of Legacy Gift form. If you name Duke in your will, you can designate the specific use in the will itself or with this form. The Confirmation of Legacy Gift form does not bind you or your estate in any way and allows you to indicate that your estate gift be kept anonymous.

  3. There are no tax advantages associated with charitable gifts made through a will or retirement account.

    While naming Duke in your will or as a future beneficiary of a retirement account has no tax implications during your lifetime, it may result in tax savings when you pass away. Designating Duke as the beneficiary of a non-Roth retirement account may avoid income taxes that would apply to retirement assets withdrawn by your heirs. Gifts made in this way will also have a greater impact at Duke; as a qualified 501(c)(3) charity, Duke is not subject to income taxes and will receive 100 percent of your retirement account gift.

    In terms of estate tax, recent changes to the tax code will result in fewer American owing estate tax in the next few years, but those changes expire in 2026. Plus, some states have their own estate tax that may be a concern to you. Leaving assets to Duke may result in estate and gift tax deductions.

  4. It is not important to notify Duke or other charities that they have been included in my estate plans.

    It is vitally important to share how Duke should use your legacy gift once it is received. Notifying the Office of Gift Planning in advance will help ensure Duke understands your intentions and will meet your expectations when the time comes. If you are able to provide an estimated value of your gift, that amount will be included in your “lifetime giving” total and will count toward membership in Duke’s giving societies. Knowing your plans will also enable us to express our gratitude to you during your lifetime!

Duke University’s Office of Gift Planning encourages you to consult with your personal tax and financial advisors as you explore your planned giving options. Please contact a member of our team if you have questions or if we can be of service in any way.

TAGS: Estate planning IRA retirement account designations bequests

About the author

Gift Planning


Duke University’s Office of Gift Planning specializes in charitable gift planning for estates, charitable trusts and annuities, and other complex current and future gift plans.

For more information, please contact the Duke University Office of Gift Planning at 919-681-0464 or giftplanning@duke.edu.