Leaving a legacy: Attorney partners with Michigan program committed to supporting charities in wills


 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
Jackson attorney Rick Mills has heard too many stories of what happens when well meaning people leave their entire estates to ungrateful people who squabbled or squandered it away. 
“A portion of those funds could have made a world of difference in the community,” said Mills, whose practice is devoted to estate planning, charitable gift planning, and probate matters.  “That is not to say that families are not often the natural beneficiaries of an estate, but if we can plant the seed of philanthropy today, great things will happen for Jackson.”  
That’s why Mills recently become a community partner of the Southeast Michigan program of Leave A Legacy, a public awareness campaign conducted by the Planned Giving Roundtable of Southeast Michigan to inspire people to make charitable bequests.
Through their partnership, Mills will support and promote the need for individuals to support their favorite charities in their wills or estate plans.
 Although about 85 of southeast Michigan residents give to charities each year, fewer than six percent leave a gift in their wills.
Mills believes many more people would make bequests to charity if their attorneys reminded them of the opportunity. 
“Attorneys are often shy about inquiring into a potential charitable bequests for fear of offending the client, but in my experience such inquiries do not offend the client and often cause them to remember a bequest they intended to make,” said Mills, who is president of the Jackson County Bar Association. “While we are never to impose our own values on the client, we can often do a great deal of good by merely opening the client's eyes to an opportunity for philanthropy. “
Mills said he learned from serving on charitable boards that even a relatively small gift in terms of the total estate or trust can make a huge difference on the budget of a small charity. 
“Bequests of every size build parks, museums, symphony orchestras, the things that make Jackson a great place to live,” he said.  “I would like more Jackson County residents to consider how much different Jackson would be if people like Ella Sharp, Captain Sparks, and Peter Weatherwax, just to name a few, hadn't decided to leave Jackson a better community than how they found it.”      
 “When I speak to service clubs and religious organizations I asked them, `Does your estate plan reflect your values?  If you give countless hours of time every week to a service club, synagogue, or church, if you are a faithful donor today, shouldn't your estate plan reflect how important it is to you?  You don't have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist.  Our local charities need philanthropists of any size.’”
  The most exciting estate planning meetings with clients are the meetings where charitable gifts—even small ones— are discussed, he said.
“Those meetings aren't just about death, incapacity, and taxes,” said Mills.  “You learn about what gets them excited, what makes them feel like they can make a difference.  Often I hear touching stories.  People often give out of a sense of gratitude and the desire to pay it forward.  One benefit to the charity is that a client who has thought enough to leave them a bequest is usually psychologically invested in their mission and wants to see them succeed.”       


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