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Be sure that your wishes are carried out

after you have departed this life.small logo



If you are sure that you want to leave all of your estate to your family then you do not have to read any further.  However, if in your heart you yearn or have a desire to make a small difference in this world then read on.

How you distribute your estate is your business and no one else’s.  Children and other family members do not have any particular right to inherit from your estate, unless you don’t leave a will.  (Spouses do have a right to what is called an elective share, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.)    You are free to give some or all of your estate to any person or entity you choose.  You can include or exclude any person or entity you want.  While most people will leave some or all of their estate to their family, many clients want to leave another kind of legacy, a charitable legacy.  Each of us wants to make a difference in the world of some sort and one way to make that difference is in your estate plan.  While we all cannot make as big of a difference as we might like, the following are a few examples of individuals who did make a difference in their estate plan:

Stephen Girard:            Have you heard of Girard Avenue or the Girard Point Bridge or Girard College.  These are named after a Philadelphian immigrant from France named Stephen Girard.  (While France is not our best ally now, in the 1770s, France was our best ally without whom it is doubtful we would have won our independence from Britain.)  When Stephen Girard died in 1831 the value of his estate was estimated at 7.6 million dollars.  In 1981, after roviding care and education to thousands of children for over 100 years, the value of Girard’s estate was estimated at 231 million dollars.    Girard, the wealthiest man in America at the time of his death, died without a wife or any children of his own.  While he made specific bequests to family, associates and friends, Girard left the majority of his estate to establish a home for white, fatherless boys.  That home is known as Girard College.  Although it is called Girard College, it is a home that provides a home and education through high school only. 

Girard’s family members were not happy that they didn’t inherit Girard’s vast estate and hired the famous Daniel Webster to challenge Girard’s will.  The legal battle over Girard’s will was fought all the way to the United States Supreme Court where it culminated in a 10 day Court hearing before the Supreme Court.  With only one exception, an exception that did not change who got the money, the will was upheld by the Supreme Court and Girard’s legacy, Girard College, was established handing Daniel Webster one of the few defeats he suffered in his career as an attorney. 

Girard is a fascinating historical figure who rubbed elbows with George Washington and other founding fathers.  He was a brilliant business man who started a bank, traded internationally, was instrumental in coping with Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic and was a very generous philanthropist both during his life and afterwards.  Through his estate plan, which was articulated in his extremely detailed will, Girard has provided for thousands of orphans since 1848 when Girard College first began accepting students.  In a sense, though he had no children of his own, he has a large family through the orphanage he created in his will.  I know because my father entered Girard College at the age of six after losing his father.  I have heard about Stephen Girard throughout my whole life and am appreciative of what his estate did for my father and many thousands of other “Hummers.”  

I hope his story challenges you to consider leaving a legacy of your own.  Though few of us will ever be able to do what Girard did, we can make a difference according to our own resources.

Girard College Web Site

Web Sites about Stephen Girard


This is a recent example of a legacy left to the Christian Academy in Brookhaven, Pennsylvania.  The school is using some of the funds to establish the Joseph and Emily Fisher Scholarship Fund and will use some of the funds to improve their facilities and pay off debt. 




There are many options for you to leave a charitable legacy.  You can simply allocate a portion of your estate to a charity.  You can also use beneficiary designations like POD, TOD and ITF on CDs and accounts to ensure that the charity of your choice receives a portion of your estate.  You can also name a charity as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy.  Some clients leave 10% to their church or bequeath specific sums to other charities. 

One tax prudent technique to leave money to a charity is to name a charity as a beneficiary of a qualified retirement account like an IRA or 401(k) if you have one.  Generally, a beneficiary of a qualified plan will have to pay income tax on the funds they receive from the plan.  This income tax is in addition to the inheritance and, if applicable, Federal Estate Tax that must be paid.  By naming a charity of a qualified plan, you can eliminate, not only the inheritance and Federal Estate Tax on this charitable bequest, you also eliminate income tax on the distribution because a non-profit charity pays no income tax. 

So what, if any, charitable legacy should you leave.  Take a few minutes and do a self-evaluation and examine what you feel passionate about.  Do you contribute to your church or other charities?  Do you receive newsletters from organizations that you look forward to reading or volunteer your time to any non-profit organizations?   Spend some time to identify what motivates you in life and consider contributing in some way to that cause in your estate plan. 

Click here to get started making your own legacy.


Click here to get started making your own legacy.

If you know of another interesting example of a charitable legacy, we would appreciate your letting us know about it by sending us an email at


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The purpose of this site is to provide useful information about wills, estate planning and estate administration. It is not intended to provide legal advice.You should consult a competent estate planning and/or estate administration attorney before acting on any of the information contained on this site.