Estate Planning for Social Change

By Megan Gebhardt (Estimated reading time: 4 min)

Estate planning can serve many purposes. For a family with young children, the most urgent purposes often include naming a guardian for minor children. Or maybe it’s to establish a will that has tools to protect children financially, if the parent were to pass away while the kids are still young. Additionally, estate planning can be a tool that supports social change and racial justice.

Before you get into the details of your will, take some time to think about what messages and values you want to leave behind for your family, friends, and community. You could begin by considering opportunities you were given and had access to, based on privileges you had, and the sources of your financial resources.

Then, consider what it means to you to have financial resources – do you consider them yours alone, or do you view yourself as a steward of these during your lifetime? What is the highest purpose that these assets you have accumulated during your lifetime could have? And how can your will help further these beliefs?

When thinking about what you want to leave for your children, you can consider what a future inheritance will enable them to do and access. What would the ideal purposes of a gift left to them be? You can also consider whether some amount is “too much,” or “enough” to help further goals you have for their future. Along with that, consider that you can share and support family values through your will, and that doing this is also a gift for your children. How can you help your children have an awareness of the head-start an inheritance would give them?

Take time to identify these values. For example, you may believe that every human life has equal value, that reparations are owed to BIPOC communities for the harm inflicted on them for hundreds of years, or that human dignity demands equity for the poor and vulnerable. Then, think about what scenarios in your estate plan would allow you to support and further these values.

Most families are not in a financial situation that allows them to be sure their children would have enough to get through growing up if they were to lose a parent while they were young. However, regardless of your current financial situation, you can plan your will with contingences. For example, you can set a maximum amount that will go to your children that will support all the personal goals you have for them, and then designate amounts over that threshold to support your social values and principles.

There are so many local organizations who are doing amazing work, and larger organizations that have decades of experience behind their mission. If you need help identifying organizations that support your values or worry that your will might become outdated as philanthropic organizations change, local community foundations, like the Seattle Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Snohomish County can support you in keeping your overall goals in mind and update giving to match who is doing the best work in the areas of your choice as the years pass.

There are also exciting estate planning tools, like charitable remainder trusts, which allow you to benefit both your children and charities of your choice, while allowing your children to take ownership of being a steward of ensuring these assets support shared values after you are gone. It can be overwhelming to choose, but taking the time to think through your goals with your estate plan and which organizations you would prefer to support can have lasting inter-generational impact.

Estate planning as an agent of social change can be very powerful and allows you to act out your values around leaving wealth to your family and supporting social and racial justice. Will a portion of your estate be dedicated to furthering social change and the common good? 

About the Author
About the Author

Megan is the owner of Gebhardt Law Office, P.S., where she has an estate planning practice that focuses on flat fee estate planning. She values the opportunity to work with families and individuals in preparing their estate plans. Giving back to the community is a fundamental part of Megan’s practice as an attorney. She regularly speaks at PEPS and other organization’s events. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement of Washington and on the Board of Trustees of the Valley School. Megan lives in Seattle with her family of four, including a husband, and two sons, aged 9 and 7.

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