Ask Helen: Cancer scare makes senior consider giving to charity

Dear Helen:

I’m in my 70s and reasonably well off. I don’t have family whom I feel a need to subsidize with my assets after my demise. I’m not a grinch, but the mishpoche are already well off. I’ve begun thinking about death more lately, after a brush with cancer. I am in remission and according to my doctor I could have a long life. But I could also die a lot sooner, and all the money I have saved could be doing the needy some good. I want to put my money where my mouth and votes have been going for the last 50 years. I know that once I raise this issue with everyone from my synagogue to nonprofits, I will have to fend off the planned giving managers. Do you have any pointers about how to open the door without inviting a stampede?

Future Donor

Dear Donor:

This is a great time to talk to your attorney. That’s the only way your wishes can be legally protected. You can call, ask, get information and indicate your wishes. But a legal document is your best protection that they’ll be observed. Even then, unless someone cares enough to monitor and enforce, you have to assume you’re giving a gift to an organization you trust.

Choosing wisely is an important first step. In a preliminary call to every group you’d consider giving money to, ask for a meeting with a planned giving rep. Ask what minimum makes it worth their time to talk to you regarding possible conditions attached to bequests. Explain you’re thinking of a donation in the $10-50K range. (I just made up those numbers; adjust as needed.) Say you have specific opinions about uses – e.g., direct assistance to those in need, a library fund, social justice policy, whatever matters to you. Explain you still need your money now, but that you’re happy to share once you’re gone. Ask what guarantees they will give that your wishes will be honored and a bequest will not disappear into a general use fund. Ask if they have specific language for you to put into your will. Then narrow the targets to ensure the money is used most effectively. Kudos to you for putting your assets where your heart is.
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A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom: A wise man understands a hint; a donkey needs a fist. Moroccan Jewish saying
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A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to


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