To families struggling to make ends meet, it may seem counterintuitive. But experts say planning a charitable donation to be given after death can be a source of great joy. Estate gifts are a way to touch the future in just the way one wishes. And planned giving might even allow heirs to have a lifetime income and tax savings to boot.

“Someone may say, ‘This mission is important to me. I don’t have it in my budget to give a gift every year but at end of life I hope to have some great assets,’” said Sabrina Blue, director of major gifts for the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Foundation.

“Planned giving can help you maximize your philanthropic goals,” said Susan Gallagher, planned giving manager for Mount Angel Abbey. “The ‘planning’ part can be simple or complex. The ‘giving’ is giving back some of what God has given you during your lifetime.”

Potential donors often don’t think their estate is big enough to warrant an estate plan, added Gallagher. But those who own their houses in these days of inflated home values have a substantial estate that deserves planning.

Ways to plan

Blue said that creating a legacy of planned giving and impacting lives of people served by a charity are easier than most people think.

“The technical stuff does not need to be intimidating,” said Peter Corrado, director of the Catholic Schools Endowment Foundation of Oregon, an independent entity that raises funds for families to help them afford Catholic schools.

There are many different vehicles of planned giving. Here are the most common:

• Stock can be given directly as a gift without the donor incurring capital gains or taxable income, said Carmen Gaston, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese of Portland.

• Required minimum distributions, the amount of money those 70½ and older must withdraw from a retirement account annually, can be given directly as a gift without the donor needing to pay taxes on it, added Gaston, who is an attorney. Also, an entire IRA can be contributed to charity.

• Simple bequests within a will or trust or within an estate plan are a common arrangement.

• Charitable gift annuities allow a donor to give cash or property to a charity in exchange for a partial tax deduction and a lifetime stream of income.

• Charitable remainder trusts are a tax-exempt irrevocable trust by which a donor gives cash or property to a charity in exchange for dispersing income to the beneficiaries of the trust for a specified period of time and then donates the remainder of the trust to designated charities.

• It’s possible to leave your favorite charity or parish a percentage of the payout from your life insurance policy by making them a beneficiary of the policy, said Gallagher. This can typically be done by filling out a form, calling your agent or going online.

• Corrado said one effective way to give is to donate an asset that is not earning income for the owner — such as land, a second home or securities. Those kinds of gifts often relieve a tax burden.

“It’s a win-win. It helps everybody,” said Corrado. “It gets you beyond, ‘I can’t do more.’”

What planned giving has done

Estate gifts have made a big difference for many Catholic ministries.

One older couple lived on a small income and gave regularly to their parish and to the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. Their children were financially stable and had moved away with no intent of returning home. So the left their house to their parish and the Archdiocese of Portland. Although the home was modest, the sale left the parish more than its annual offertory income.

Maryville received an estate gift from one family, the Cholicks, who loved the outdoors and had the motto “Better days are coming.” It seemed natural to create an outdoors feature for people who were seeking better days — that translated into a courtyard with different rehabilitation exercise sites.

Other planned giving gifts from estates funded a science building at Valley Catholic and a kitchen renovation in the convent.

Recently, the child of a bequest donor to Mount Angel Seminary added to her father’s estate gift because she was so moved by her his passion for the abbey.

A few years ago the abbey received a coin collection from an alumnus that sold for $250,000. Estate gifts played a major role in paying for the remodel and expansion of the St. Benedict Guesthouse and Retreat Center and have been used to care for aged and infirm monks.

Miffed heirs?

Don’t heirs get angry when mom and dad donate lots of money at the time of death?

“No,” says Gaston. “Often it is to the benefit of the heirs from a tax perspective while honoring the donor’s charitable intent.”

Blue has heard of heirs who resent estate gifts, but it’s rare. One way to forestall such bitterness is to create an open charitable fund that allows the heirs to decide who gets the money.

What’s more, those who don’t have a plan may find their estate thrown into probate — control by government laws and procedures.

“Heirs would prefer to know you have a plan and know that it will be executed per your wishes,” said Corrado. “You may not be remembered nearly as fondly if you put them through the time and expense of probate. To watch it be inefficiently and poorly stewarded in probate is heartbreaking.”

Making a connection while alive

Planned giving can create a fruitful relationship between the donor and the people who benefit. Those who include the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in their estate plans are invited to join the Sequoia Society. Membership allows them to get special information and attend special events.

“We want to be connected and we know they want to be connected, too,” said Blue. “There is definitely a connection, a joy in giving this way.”

The older generation gave quietly. But now, major donors have been convinced that they need to set an example so give more publicly. Announcing a bequest ahead of time also allows the giver to have some say in how the money will be used and allows the charity to say thank you and develop an enjoyable relationship with the donor, Corrado said.

Leaving a legacy

“People want to leave a legacy in our world, in our community, with an organization that is doing great work,” said Blue, who has had donors fund a scholarship to one of Valley Catholic’s schools in the name of a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon who was a beloved teacher. Others want to leave a bequest in honor of a sister who brought them Communion in their last days at Maryville, a senior care center.

“What is the impact you want to leave?” asked Blue. “Legacy is something that is important to a lot of people, even young people.”

Planned gifts, said Gallagher, allow organizations “to carry on building God’s kingdom on earth.”