If you do just one thing right...Don’t ignore your oldest friends

Posted by National Association of Charitable Gift Planners on Jan 6, 2015 1:55:21 PM

Working with your organization’s oldest friends can be fraught with challenges and limitations.  But, don’t take the easy route and leave these friends at the bottom of your priority list.


The oldest ages are usually the most important decision-making period for revocable estate gifts.  It is easy to fall into the ageism trap and start to think, “Old people don’t change their minds.”  Statistics suggest that this isn’t the case in estate giving. Of the over 10,000 decedents tracked in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study, most charitable estate gifts were added within five years of death.

A national study of probate records in Australia found that 60% of charitable wills were signed within 5 years of death.  Additionally, 76% of estate dollars transferred to charity came from wills signed when decedents were in their 80s, 90s, or older.  In the Australian study, 50% of estate dollars came from those dying at age 90 and older.  In the U.S. study, this age was 89 if gifts were capped at $1 million, but 90 if they were not.

Evidence from several sources converges to suggest that plans become highly unstable in the last few years prior to death.  And for the bulk of charitable estate gifts these last few years occur in the 80s and 90s.  If a charity doesn't stay connected with its oldest friends it will likely be forgotten at this critical decision-making time.  It is great to get in the plan early.  This can lead to conversations about irrevocable planned gifts, more current giving, and larger estate gifts.  But, when it comes to getting funds from revocable estate plans, the score doesn't count until the clock shows double zeros.

You can’t sit on the bench in the fourth quarter and expect to win the game.

Meet your own elder-self, and build empathy with elder donors and clients: Click to access: Elder Etiquette: Best Practices for Building Relationships with Elder Donors and Clients 

Author: Russell N. James III, J.D., Ph.D., CFP®
Professor & CH Foundation Chair in Personal Financial Planning
Director of Graduate Studies in Charitable Planning,
Texas Tech University

Topics: philanthropy, donors, planned giving