Charitable Bequests

A charitable bequest is simply a distribution from your estate to a charitable organization through your last will and testament. There are different kinds of bequests. For each, you must use very specific language to indicate the precise direction of your assets, and to successfully carry out your final wishes. In any charitable bequest, be sure to name the recipient accurately. For example, a bequest to The Cancer Society might go to national headquarters, when you meant it to go to the affiliate in your community.

Do you have an estate?

Your estate is the sum of your assets, including property you own, insurance policies, retirement accounts, cash on hand, etc. Wealthy people may have very large estates, but even people who aren’t wealthy often have the resources to make a charitable bequest. If every adult in America made a will and included a bequest of just $100, billions of dollars would flow to charitable causes every year.

Below, we have listed some of the more common kinds of bequests, and some bequest language. We always recommend that you carefully review the terms of your will with a professional trained in handling trusts and estates.

General Bequests are legacies left to certain people or causes that come from the general value of the estate, and are made by designating a specific dollar amount, a particular asset or a fixed percentage of your estate to the cause of your choice.

General bequest language:

“I give and bequeath to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, the sum of $________(or a description of the specific asset), for the benefit of NAME OF CHARITY and its general purposes.”

Specific Bequests are made when a particular item or property is bequeathed for a designated purpose. (i.e., instruments bequeathed to the local school district for use in music education; dollar funds to be used in the operation of a school or church.)

Specific bequest language:

“I give, and bequeath to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, the sum of $_______ (or a description of a specific asset), for the benefit of NAME OF CHARITY to be used for the following purpose: (state the purpose). If at any time in the judgment of the trustees of NAME OF CHARITY it is impossible or impracticable to carry out exactly the designated purpose, they shall determine an alternative purpose closest to the designated purpose.”

Residuary Bequests are made when you intend to leave the residue portion of your assets after other terms of the will have been satisfied.

Residuary bequest language:

“All the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate, both real and personal, I give to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, for its general purposes.”

Contingency Bequests allow you to leave a portion of your estate to a particular charity if your named beneficiary does not survive you.

Contingency bequest language:

“I devise and bequeath the residue of the property, real and personal and wherever situated, owned by me at my death, to (name of beneficiary), if (she/he) survives me. If (name of beneficiary) does not survive me, I devise and bequeath my residuary estate to NAME OF CHARITY/LOCATION, for its general purposes.”

Without a will, there is no mechanism in place to make a bequest, so here are the steps you should take to make sure your wishes are granted.

  • Make a list of organizations or causes that you would like to support.
  • Make a detailed list of your assets (financial, real estate, vehicles, jewelry, collectibles, musical instruments, etc.)
  • Set up an appointment with your financial analyst or attorney, or planned giving officer at the organization you intend to support. These professionals will help sensitively guide you through the process.

In addition, you can make a charitable gift from your estate with retirement assets and/or life estate.

Retirement Assets

To leave all or part of a retirement plan or IRA to charity, you need to obtain a beneficiary designation form from your plan administrator (each plan has different forms) and name your designated charity on the beneficiary designation. Note, if you are 70 ½ or older, you can make a current gift of retirement assets to the charity by transferring monies directly from your IRA to the charity (IRA Charitable Rollover only good through 12/31/13).  This also needs to be done through your plan administrator.

Life Insurance

There are two options with life insurance and charitable giving.  1. You can name your designated charity as a full or partial beneficiary of a new or existing insurance policy.  To do this, you need to obtain a beneficiary designation form from your insurance company or 2. You can transfer ownership of an existing policy to  your designated charity (there are current tax advantages to this) or purchase a new policy to be owned by the charity.  You will need to do this through an insurance company but the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer can assist with this.

Role of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer

MISSION: To promote philanthropy through meaningful partnerships with donors and community organizations in achieving charitable goals; to increase current and future support for a vibrant and secure Jewish and general community in Greater Mercer County, Israel and around the world.

Vision: As a primary, trusted and expert resource for philanthropy, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer will engage, educate and inspire generations of givers throughout the Jewish community.

Please don’t hesitate to contact the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer at 609-219-0555 or at with any questions you may have.

Please feel free to download this information to save the details about specific wording for leaving a charitable bequest in your will.