5 reasons to consider a charitable “legacy” bequest

Americans give more money to charity each year than the rest of the world combined.  We are a nation of philanthropists, and helping others is woven into our cultural fabric.

While we love to see the impact of our gifts in the here and now, no one knows what the future may hold in terms of life expectancy, health care costs, family needs or financial events.  So many of us feel we can only afford to donate a limited amount to charity from year to year.  That’s okay; those concerns are normal. But a bequest may enable you to do more than you thought possible.

Here are five reasons why you should consider a bequest to create your own charitable legacy –

1) It’s easy – you simply name a charity, such as Duke University, as a beneficiary in your will, revocable trust, IRA, qualified retirement account, or other asset.  We have suggested language available for charitable bequests to Duke and can work with you to outline your personal wishes for use of your gift.

2) It’s revocable – The vast majority of charitable bequests are revocable, so if you wind up needing those assets, they are still yours to use during your lifetime.  Likewise, you also retain the power to change the use of your charitable gift if your priorities change over time.

3) It’s personally rewarding – While you may not be financially “comfortable” with the idea of funding a named endowment (a permanent fund) or another large gift while you are alive, your need for assets tends to diminish greatly once you are knocking at the Pearly Gates! Think of how great it will feel to know that a part of your life’s bounty will go to help others have opportunities that would not otherwise have been possible.

4) It’s simple, and the cost can be really, really “cheap” (translation – you just fill out a beneficiary designation form in some cases) – Did you know your heirs may only receive pennies on the dollar if certain assets are left to them? IRAs and other retirement accounts, deferred compensation, interest on U.S. Savings bonds, and other untaxed assets may be subject to: (a) estate tax (40% federal; state taxes may also apply) and (b) income tax when the funds are withdrawn by a beneficiary (as high as 39.6% federal, plus state and local taxes in some cases). But the same asset can be left to Duke University or another qualified charity, and 100% of the gift will go to the purposes you designate (e.g. a need based scholarship endowment in your name at Duke). Doing good really can cost less with a bequest (and yes, I practice what I preach)!

5) It’s inspiring to others – you can lead by example by making a charitable bequest and becoming a member of the Duke University Heritage Society.  It is our hope that your classmates, friends, family members, and peers may elect to follow your example. If someone asks, consider sharing your personal experience and why you decided to donate in this thoughtful way.

Think about what inspires you at Duke and support it.  For example, many of our most generous donors attended Duke years ago thanks to need-based financial aid (as do about 50% of our students today).  Because of that, they make gifts to fund scholarships so others will have those same opportunities in life. 

We have countless, heart-warming, stories about charitable bequests, the impact they are making now and the reasons they were given.  Their good deeds live on at our campus, and in the incredible work being done by our students, graduates, faculty members, doctors, nurses and researchers in the greater world.

Now, lift your eyes toward the sky and reflect on a memory about someone who helped you in life… and then start making plans to pay it forward.

TAGS: bequest legacy

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.