By Beth Sirull
In the eight months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, three interesting trends have emerged in our community.
First, charitable giving is up dramatically. A growing number of San Diegans require assistance to meet their basic needs. And our community has met the challenge. Many people have given more than in previous years and are tapped out, at least for now. But they see the needs and would like to give more to the causes they care about.
Second, with many schools closed and parents working from home, families are bonding in new and unexpected ways. We are all spending much more time together than ever before. In many families, adult children have moved home either from abandoned dorm rooms or cramped apartments in another city. Family togetherness is hip.
And third, people have time on their hands. Many are taking this opportunity to dust off old documents such as trusts, wills, healthcare directives and the like. Now is a good time to review and revise these documents to make sure they still meet your needs and desires. If you do not yet have a trust or will, now is the time to create one.
It’s time to weave these three trends together. While you have the time and are home with your loved ones, engage your family in a conversation about giving back—today and after your lifetime. If you give regularly to certain organizations, when you die, those nonprofits must expend resources to replace your annual gift. You can honor your lifetime of giving and ensure that the causes you care about continue to be supported by including charitable bequests in your will or trust.
Planning your estate is a perfect time to include your family both in discussions as you decide what you want to do, and in the plan itself. Not long ago, the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego had a donor arrange for a fund for her grandchildren, funded from her estate. She has since passed away, and her five grandchildren, ranging in age from teenagers to thirty-somethings, now live on two continents in three time zones. But, with the foundation’s help, they are getting together by zoom regularly to build consensus around the charities they support.
Recently they were having so much fun that they decided to take a screen shot of all of them on Zoom and send it to their parents, honoring their grandmother’s wish that they stay connected. They are now talking about growing the fund and establishing an endowment that they and their future children could use to support charities for years to come.
Establishing a charitable legacy can be easy. For example, working with our foundation to customize your plan, you may use an IRA, 401(k) or other retirement asset by simply designating a charity as a beneficiary. Designating retirement assets for charity often has tax benefits for your heirs, and, because these assets live outside of a trust, can be done without an attorney. Additionally, if you are creating a will or trust, the foundation will work with you and your estate-planning attorney to designate a set amount or a percentage of your estate for charity.
Whether you use retirement assets or create a trust with the help of an attorney, the foundation team will work with you to develop a comprehensive legacy plan, to articulate your wishes and ensure that they are fulfilled. To what extent do you want to support charities? Which ones and how much to each? Here in San Diego, around the country, or around the world? Would you like to make direct distributions, or would you rather put your funds in an endowment to support your favorite causes in perpetuity? Do you want to leave charitable assets for your children or grandchildren to oversee? Once you have a legacy plan in place, you are free to revise it at any time.
After your lifetime, the Jewish Community Foundation will handle all the distributions on your behalf based on your legacy instructions. Over the past 15 years, the foundation has worked with nearly 1,500 families that together have bequeathed over $200 million to nonprofits serving the community. Approximately $75 million has already been realized. And that does not include the funds that have been designated to secular organizations.
Our mission is to help to build philanthropy in our region. We work with people like you to empower your philanthropy, help local nonprofits enhance their capacity and governance, and engage the next generation to build a culture of giving in our community. This work is partly supported by generous donors who have included the foundation in their legacy plans.
What will your legacy be?
Beth Sirull is president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego.