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For Attorneys: Establishing a Philanthropic Legacy through Donor-Advised Funds

Sarah NavranProfessional Advisors

Estate planning attorneys have a number of resources available to help clients achieve their charitable goals after they’ve passed. Among the tools available, a donor-advised fund with a documented grantmaking plan is an excellent option for clients to forge a lasting legacy of generosity that extends to future generations.

We can help your clients extend their charitable goals beyond their lifetime

Donor-advised funds are extremely flexible vehicles for establishing a philanthropic legacy. As the examples below demonstrate, clients can use their donor-advised funds to engage younger generations, identify specific causes or charities for their fund to benefit, and extend charitable distributions over a period of time after their death.

Our staff is happy to work with attorneys and their clients to document a legacy plan for an existing fund or to establish a fund during a client’s lifetime to receive assets at their death. By working together ahead of time, we can ensure a client’s fund can carry out their charitable goals beyond their lifetime.

If you have a client who would like to set up a fund to name as a beneficiary of their will or trust, life insurance policy or retirement plan account, we can help. Once established, the fund can remain inactive until the proceeds are received.

Steps to help your clients establish a donor-advised fund with a legacy plan
  1. Set up a fund at Greater Horizons
    Although donor-advised funds are the most common vehicle for legacy planning, we have different types of funds your clients can use. We can help you and your client decide the right fit for their charitable goals.
  2. Document their charitable legacy
    Once the fund is established at Greater Horizons, our legal team and/or our philanthropic advisors can work with your client to document their vision for their fund after their lifetime.
  3. Add the fund to estate planning documents
    In your client’s will, trust, beneficiary designation or other estate planning document, after describing what your client is leaving to the fund (i.e., a percentage of the estate/trust/account or a specific dollar amount), you can simply say it will pass “to Greater Horizons for the following component fund: [name of your client’s fund].”

Below are a few options to think about when considering how a donor-advised fund can extend your clients’ generosity beyond their lifetime:

Pass a philanthropic legacy to the next generation

Some individuals wish to instill philanthropic values in the next generation by establishing a donor-advised fund that children, grandchildren or chosen family can use to support charitable organizations and causes they care about.

David and Danielle’s Story: About two decades ago, David and Danielle worked with their attorney to arrange for a bequest from their will to donor-advised funds at Greater Horizons. They envisioned their adult children, Mike and Catherine, actively engaging in philanthropy. With both kids living outside of their childhood hometown, David and Danielle wanted to encourage their children to make a difference back in the town that raised them. To realize this vision, David and Danielle arranged for their philanthropic inheritance to be allocated into separate donor-advised funds, one for each child, with a recommendation that grants be made in their hometown. After David and Danielle passed away, the funds received the bequest, and now Mike and Catherine get to continue carrying out their parents’ legacy through philanthropy. Mike is granting philanthropic dollars to hometown organizations that support programming for children’s youth sports, while Catherine is granting to hometown organizations serving animals.

Support charities over a number of years

Individuals may choose to establish a donor-advised fund and identify charitable organizations they want to support over a period of time.

Diane’s story: Following a successful business career, Diane decided to make a bequest that will support her three favorite charities that focus on tallgrass prairie conservation. With no direct heirs, Diane preferred to create a lasting philanthropic impact by setting up a donor-advised fund to support children’s educational programs on prairie conservation at the three designated charities. After she passed, Greater Horizons managed and distributed grants to the designated charities over a period of time according to Diane’s wishes, securing her legacy of generosity with those organizations.

Note: If your clients wish to grant to one or more charities in a lump sum after their death, we recommend naming the organizations directly in their estate plan rather than setting up a bequest to a donor-advised fund at Greater Horizons.

Combining next-generation funds with support for designated charitable organizations

We have also helped individuals create plans using a combination of the options described above. This comprehensive approach not only honors the charitable vision of the individual but also actively involves the next generation in philanthropy.

Jay’s story: As a dedicated community leader and a nurturing father, Jay was committed to making a difference through his active participation in community service, particularly with the local children’s hospital and a food pantry. More than just contributing his time, Jay was passionate about involving his sons in these activities, aiming to instill the same values of philanthropy in them. Jay decided to structure his bequest in a manner that allows him to continue supporting his beloved charities while empowering his sons to carry on the torch of giving. One portion of his bequest was allocated to a donor-advised fund to provide ongoing general operating support to his two favorite charities, and the remainder of the bequest was divided to establish two separate donor-advised funds, one for each of his sons to support the causes they care about.

Philanthropic advising services to help strengthen charitable intentions

In addition to documenting your clients’ unique charitable legacies, Greater Horizons also offers broader philanthropic advising services. Our team of philanthropic advisors are experts in helping your clients clearly define their charitable goals and priorities during their lifetime, ensuring their legacy of giving aligns with their wishes after they’ve passed. This may include documenting:

  • Specific organizations they want to support
  • Interest areas that they care about, like education, health care or the environment
  • Geographic areas where they’d like their giving concentrated
  • A timeline for their giving, which may be indefinitely or for a set number of years

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that your clients’ philanthropic efforts reflect their values and make a lasting impact in the areas that matter most to them.

For more information ensuring your client’s charitable goals last beyond their lifetime, reach out to us at or 866.719.7886.

Authored by: Andrea Sellers, Senior Corporate Counsel