Leaving Your Legacy through Bequests

January 18, 2021

Jim Nathanson, 88, knows a thing or two about wills. A lawyer and former District of Columbia Councilmember concerned with the needs and rights of residents, he drafted, among other legislation, DC’s Health-Care Decisions Act of 1988, which allows residents to name, through a Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney, someone legally allowed to make medical decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so. He also has a long history as a board member and volunteer with Iona and has included a bequest to the organization in his will.

Nathanson has named several organizations in Washington, DC—including Iona—in his will. “When you do this with local grassroots agencies that you know, you can count on the assets you leave to be used for the purposes of the organization,” he says. “Because most of my professional life has been spent in service to the community, I thought a lot about how I could continue that support.”

Estate planning through a will or trust is an important way of leaving your legacy and ensuring that your assets are distributed the way you want. “Most people, when they have some assets, worry a little bit about what will happen to those assets when they are no longer here,” Nathanson says. “Bequests are a method to control what happens to those assets.”

How bequests work 

Doing estate planning can be relatively simple. Many websites offer free Last Will and Testament templates that you can download and customize. In most states, you make your will a legal document by signing it in front of two witnesses who are at least 18 years old or by having a notary public witness your signing.

Changing or updating your will can be done in either of two ways. Nathanson says, “You can either completely redo the whole will with changes, or you can add or subtract some sentences (a codicil) to attach to the original will.” These changes allow you to add or remove beneficiaries from your estate as well as determine how your assets are distributed. Such changes must be witnessed in the same way as the will.

Supporting your local community

Bequests made to nonprofit organizations, trusts, and foundations are referred to as charitable bequests and are an important way to ensure that essential community services and programs are protected for future generations—including your own family.

Many individuals are interested in leaving bequests to both loved ones and organizations that they support. Nathanson says there’s no right away to do this—it’s a highly personal decision. “There’s a balancing act between what assets you keep within family reach and what you’re willing to leave outside the family to help the nonprofits who someday may help your family,” he says. “But as soon as you have assets, it’s not too early to put something in place.”

Are you interested in making a bequest to Iona? Contact Director of Development Jennie Smith-Peers at (202) 895-9418, or email her to discuss options. You can also find more information and sample language here.

Written by Lauren Stephenson. Special thanks to Jim and Minna Nathanson for their time and efforts contributing to this blog post.