Leaving a Legacy If You Are Wealthy (or If You Are Not)

Didn’t everyone study Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caeser” in school?   You might remember the line: “The evil that men do lives on after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”  Most of your clients would prefer to be remembered in a good way after they leave this world.  How can they leave a legacy?

What does leaving a legacy mean?  Being remembered after your death.  It helps to be famous.  John F. Kennedy has at least one airport named after him.  Pennsylvania is named after William Penn.  George Washington and Abe Lincoln have their names all over the place plus two monuments in our national’s capital.  To most people, leaving a legacy means continuing to do good after your death or having your name attached to something you donated.

Ten Ways Your Client Can Leave a Legacy

Your client isn’t a founding father or a former president.  They are a good person whose heart is in the right place.  How can they leave a legacy?

1. Donate a building or gallery.  This sounds like it might be out of reach of all but the super wealthy.  It’s not.  Museums and hospitals conduct capital campaigns every few years.  Let’s assume you have a smaller one in your area.  Naming opportunities are part of the campaign structure.  The institution has a shopping list, with prices attached.  The money is often paid over a three-year period, but it might be customizable.  Since it’s a non-profit, funding your donation using securities with a long-term capital gain makes sense.  For smaller gifts, there are often “buy a brick” programs.

End Result:  Your name is on a building or a room.

2 Give enough to get your name chiseled into the wall.  Your client does not have enough extra cash for a huge donation.  Let’s assume the hospital is breaking ground on a new building or the museum is adding a wing.  When the capital campaign is in full swing, they may have a donor level that gets your name chiseled into a stone slab inside the front door along with the names of other major donors.  Chiseled stone has permanence, paper signs do not.

End Result:  You may not have a room, but your children and grandchildren will see you name on the wall whenever they visit.

3. Give a major painting to a museum.  Your client does not have lots of ready cash, but they come from Old Money.  They own famous pieces of art.  Some collectors lend pieces to museums, others donate the artwork outright.  Museums might get lots of unsolicited gifts.  The paperwork often gives the museum the option of quietly selling the piece.  They might have reasons to refuse a donation.  However, if the work is significant, it might be placed on permanent display.

End Result:  A major piece of artwork is on display with a sign listing the name of the donor.

4. Fund a scholarship.  This might be done through your college.  It might be done through a local nonprofit or the high school.  When we hear the word “scholarship” we think of “full scholarship.”  That can get expensive.  You might donate a scholarship for a certain amount of money, perhaps $1,000 or $ 5,000.  You would want this to continue into the future.  The organization or institution will want the money up front, so they don’t need to be collecting from you or your estate.  They might want a lump sum that would pay off that amount on an annual basis.  You might fund a scholarship by putting up several year’s payments in advance.  There would be selection criteria.

End Result:  Every year, one student would receive the scholarship, usually at a formal ceremony.  Your name is connected.  The newspapers might cover it.

5. Sponsor a trophy or award.  One of our local community organizations hosts an annual juried art show.  They present awards in different categories.  These awards are sponsored by local residents and often include a cash award to the artist.  A professional jury makes the decisions.

End Result:  The award is given in your name for as many years as you are sponsoring it.  These awards are very important for artists establishing their professional reputation.

6. Mass intentions.  If you belong to a Church or religious institution, they usually produce a weekly bulletin in printed form.  Services on different days are often in honor or for the intention of someone who has passed away.  The cost is relatively low, and you might be able to pay in advance for the same date in successive years.

End Result:  The person is remembered on a specific day, at a specific service for several years.

7. Establish a foundation.  This can be big like the Ford Foundation or smaller, like a donor advised fund.  It might even carry your name.  Your money can be given away during your lifetime and someone else could continue your generosity into the future.

End Result: This form of charitable giving is at arm’s length.  Gifts come from the fund, not your own pocket because you made your charitable contributions directly into the fund.  The vehicle can continue giving over future generations.

8. Plant a tree.  Some organizations can do this for you.  You want to honor someone’s memory.  You plant a decent sized, high-quality tree.  It is planted professionally.  Someone has committed to caring for the tree.  The tree often has a permanent plaque explaining its significance.

End Result:  Remember what Warren Buffet said: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

9. Buy a bench.  Many communities have benches where people can sit and relax.  Walk around your town or neighborhood.  These benches often have a plaque attached indicating they were donated in someone’s memory.  Benches with advertising near bus stops don’t count. 

End Result:  This piece of “street furniture” keeps someone’s memory alive.

10. Donate real estate.  Your client owns property.  They donate a strategically located plot of land or building to a charity.  The nonprofit renovates the property or builds a new building.  Maybe it becomes a parking lot for the hospital. (They might choose to sell it.)

End Result:  The donor’s name is often included in the new building’s name, since the value of the land was significant.

There are many ways your client can arrange for their name to live on after them.  Many nonprofits are happy to help.