Sunrise Service, Easter 2015. Photo by Susan Fry.
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A will is important for everyone in that you designate a trusted person to be your Personal Representative to carry out your estate disposition wishes in an orderly fashion.
However ample or modest your assets, you need a will so that you — rather than a state probate court — are in charge of how things are divvied up after your lifetime. For instance, did you know that under Massachusetts law, if you die “intestate” (meaning “without a will”) and are survived by your spouse and children from a former marriage, or without children but having a living parent, your estate may be split among them, rather than passing fully to your spouse? This is just one example of how state laws may differ from your preferences. It pays to have a will!
If you already have a will, it is wise to review it from time to time, to ensure it remains relevant to your current situation.
It’s a common misconception that only wealthy people leave money to their church or to a charity when they die. The reality is that most bequests are made by ordinary, hardworking people who want to make a positive difference to their community and to other people’s lives after they’ve gone.
And what better way to make a positive difference than to align your legacy with First Parish Church of Groton’s mission:
We are a community of adults, youth, and children seeking to deepen spiritually, to take care of one another, and to be a blessing to the world.
Please consider including a bequest to First Parish when you make — or revise — your will.
For a good will, you really do need an attorney. This is not an arena where Do-It-Yourself savings pay off. If you don’t have an attorney already, ask trusted friends or relatives for a word-of-mouth referral to an attorney who practices in the state of your primary residence.
Your attorney will need to know FPCoG’s full legal name, to spell it out properly in your will. It is “First Parish Church of Groton, Unitarian Universalist.” Click here for precise language to print out and share with your attorney.
If you already have a will and want to add a bequest to FPCoG, you may ask your attorney to prepare a simple addendum called a codicil. This is easier (hence more economical) than having your attorney revise your entire will. Be sure to give the attorney this handout containing sample language.
Even simpler and quicker than writing a will (though you should do that, for its own sake) is to name First Parish as a beneficiary of your existing account in a donor advised fund, a retirement plan, IRA (Individual Retirement Account), or a life insurance policy. It’s easy to put this arrangement in place; no lawyer is needed. Just request a new beneficiary form from the institution that holds your account, insurance policy, etc. Fill out the form, indicating whether you’d like FPCoG to receive the full account value or a percentage share. Remember to spell FPCoG’s legal name out in full: First Parish Church of Groton, Unitarian Universalist, located in Groton, Massachusetts. Should FPCoG’s tax ID be required, it is: 04-2195416.
You can find even more sophisticated gift planning options, such as charitable trusts and gift annuities, on the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) legacy website.
Leaving your IRA to First Parish exempts it from taxation, whereas if you name your heirs as beneficiaries, the income tax that has been deferred all these years will need to be paid as your heirs withdraw from an “Inherited IRA” If your estate is subject to estate tax, that will take another chunk out of your heirs’ share.(Currently Massachusetts Estate Tax threshold is at one million dollars but Federal Estate Tax does not apply until the estate is 5.45 million) So if your estate exceeds one million, it’s particularly tax-wise to make a charitable gift via your IRA.
IRA giving is also possible during your lifetime, once you’ve reached the age of 70-1/2. Under current law, If you don’t need your full required distribution, you can use up to $100,000 a year of it as a pre-tax “charitable checkbook,” so long as you steer the withdrawals straight from your banking institution to FPCoG, without first depositing the funds into your personal bank account. Using your IRA for charitable gifts is doubly advantageous, since the gifts count toward your required minimum distribution, yet they are not taxed as they would be if you were to withdraw them for your own use. Also, IRA charitable giving reduces the funds left in the account at the end of your lifetime, which are subject to both income tax and estate tax. Here are more instructions on this lifetime IRA giving option.
Once you’ve solidified your legacy plans, you may, if you’d like, take the further step of joining FPCoG’s Legacy Society. This is simply a group of people willing to go on record as having made provisions for our church in their will, IRA, retirement plan, life insurance policy, or other such vehicle. Growing the ranks of The Legacy Society will encourage others to do as you’ve done. You needn’t share specifics about your gift unless you are comfortable doing so. Click the link to review the Letter of Intent form.
Without a will, your assets will be parceled out without any regard to your wishes; a probate court will use a pre-determined legal formula to decide who gets what. Amazingly, about 60 percent of Americans die “intestate” (without a will), meaning probate courts step in. Whether or not you consider yourself “wealthy,” take control of what happens with your estate by getting your will done as soon as possible, and then reviewing it periodically. Having a will is the only way to ensure that your legacy aligns with your values.