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Bequest Management

Top 10 Reasons to Partner with CCK for Your Bequest Management

August 18, 2020
Top 10 Reasons to Partner with CCK for Your Bequest Management

1. A proactive and paperless solution to bequest administration in the face of staffing and resource challenges.

CCK is one of only a few firms nationally that has developed an expertise in Bequest Administration, and we represent several prominent charities. Organizations who partner with CCK do so to ensure a skilled, deliberate, and proactive approach to the management of matured bequests, fulfilling their goal of thoughtful stewardship of testamentary gifts.

CCK’s digitized bequest program allows our clients to track and monitor CCK’s work on all matured bequests in one highly organized and managed space, and to go green by eliminating the need for paper files. Clients have 24/7 access to donor files, case updates, and bequest documents. Also, clients can request or generate their own customized reports remotely.

Whether an organization receives many bequests annually or needs assistance on a less frequent basis, CCK provides expertise in bequest administration empowering non-profits and charities with the freedom to focus on their mission and their donors.

Organizations nationwide, particularly non-profits and charities, have been greatly impacted by the ongoing pandemic. For charities, the tedium of, coupled with the extreme attention to detail required for, competent administration of every one of a non-profit’s matured bequests can be a vulnerable spot during these challenging times.

At a time when many organizations are facing the difficult choice of staff furloughs and layoffs, or not filling vacancies, CCK is uniquely positioned to provide one of the most important services which impacts the bottom line and mission of charitable organizations: administration of bequests. CCK permits non-profits and charities to rest easy knowing that the important work of managing matured bequests is performed with excellence and diligence, while freeing up resources for other work, whether it be development or mission-based.

Donors are updating their estate plans at an increased rate, but at the same time, non-profits are experiencing decreases in resources and staff to monitor these testamentary gifts. Delays in estate administration could mean that the funds will dissipate from fees, market losses, and other unanticipated events which is in direct conflict of a donor’s desire for their legacy gift to be put to work for charitable purposes as soon as possible. At a time when actualized bequests are becoming a more and more critical part of non-profit organizations’ fundraising, a proactive approach to bequest management is necessary to ensure your organization receives all that your donors intend, and in a timely manner.

2. Platinum level stewardship of your donors’ final gifts.

By retaining CCK to manage their matured bequests, non-profits benefit from the personal, confidential, and fiduciary collaboration that our firm brings to each gift. We represent the non-profit relative to bequests, and are bound by strict rules of ethical and professional responsibility to represent its best interests.

As the charitable organization’s legal representative, we are committed to honoring the donor’s wishes and ensuring that prompt, accurate distribution is made from the estate as the donor intended. CCK monitors the entire estate administration process from start to finish. In doing so, CCK promptly communicates and develops a relationship with the Personal Representative (PR) or their Counsel. This initiative in thorough and regular communication results in a more transparent administration and open discussion about any potential disputes.

Along with fostering a relationship with the estate, CCK closely analyzes the wishes of the donor as expressed through their will, trust, or other testamentary instrument. In doing so, we ensure that the estate is being administered in accordance with the donor’s wishes and that the organization is receiving that to which they are entitled. If any language appears to be restrictive regarding the organization’s use of the gift, CCK makes our client aware so appropriate decisions can be made by the client.

The personalized stewardship of these bequests also provides opportunities for organizations to strengthen their relationship with the estate and the family members who may potentially become future donors. For instance, some PRs or family members have special requests for the organization, such as memorializing the donor’s gift with a plaque. Although these wishes may not be detailed in a gift instrument, CCK facilitates a conversation between the estate and the organization so that the family’s wishes may be fully taken into account.

3. Navigation of the estate administration process by skilled professionals looking out for your organization.

CCK frequently communicates with each estate’s personal representative to make sure the administration is on the right track and things are moving smoothly. If an issue arises or we perceive that the estate is being handled incorrectly, our team will take appropriate action for our client.

There are many steps within estate administration. A typical estate would first provide notice of the decedent’s death and provide a copy of the gift instrument. The gift instrument governs the donor’s intentions for the bequest. Many bequests are restricted, meaning they are designated for a specific purpose (e.g. endowment).

CCK utilizes a robust case management system, allowing our team to process pertinent documentation, organized in one system, accurately and efficiently. Gift instruments, correspondence, and CCK’s interpretation of key provisions relative to the non-profit client are saved and documented in a manner readily accessible and digestible for each client via a custom online dashboard.

The stress that naturally results from keeping information, documents, communications, and analyses in different places or utilizing side-lists, spreadsheets, calendar reminders, and Post-its is eliminated when CCK assumes responsibility.

But there is more to successful bequest management than disciplined organization and evaluation; active communication and advocacy is often critical. Regular contact with a PR is necessary to stay informed of when documents may be available or when distributions should be anticipated. Once the PR is ready to make distributions to the beneficiaries, there is usually an inventory or accounting provided so the beneficiaries can review the income and expenses of the estate. Expenses, including legal fees, CPA fees, taxes, and PR fees are important to review. There is usually a “Receipt & Release” included to be signed by the beneficiary, if they are agreeable to the accounting. Depending on the size of the estate, PRs will make more than one distribution to beneficiaries so that they can release money, but still have funds left to pay for ongoing expenses. In this case, an accounting may not be provided until the last distribution is ready for disbursement.

4. Protection against lack of knowledge or diligence of some personal representatives.

CCK is knowledgeable about the rules and laws governing how estate and trust administrations work, so we know what to expect in a “normal” administration. We request the same core documents from all personal representatives. As a law firm, and as our clients’ legal representative, we are often more successful in securing key documents than non-profits can be on their own.

If it seems like a personal representative is not performing their job correctly, or they are not responsive, our team can interject to assist, or try to find other ways to obtain documents (like inquiring with the Court). For example, we have experienced instances when personal representatives have distributed funds from an estate, but not provided any documents. These personal representatives also failed to respond to emails or letters. Accordingly, CCK contacted the Court where the probate administration was held to obtain copies of the documents filed. Rather than just cash the checks that were sent, CCK scrutinized the PR’s administration and has, on occasion, found errors, that had to be corrected for our clients’ benefit, and to fully honor the donors’ wishes.

Many personal representatives are not aware of the information they are required to provide to a beneficiary. This could result in the inability to review important documents and thus miss the opportunity to identify errors. Personal representatives may also read the language in a gift instrument incorrectly. This could result in the wrong organization or department receiving the bequest.

5. Assurance that your organization does not give up valuable rights or assume dangerous risks.

With CCK’s professional legal team providing bequest management services, your organization never has to worry about whether a settlement document or court order presented by an estate is going to deny your organization later funds to which they would be entitled, or worse, put your organization at risk. All documents are thoroughly reviewed and analyzed by bequest management professionals with experience in trusts and estates administration.

For example, many estates provide “Receipt, Release and Indemnification Agreements” that are presented to the non-profit, sometimes with undue pressure from the personal representative. The PR suggests “sign this, or you will not receive your bequest,” and many charities unknowingly sign the document without realizing they may be obligated to return funds to the estate at a later date. In fact, many documents specify that beneficiaries may be required not only to return funds, but also to provide funds in excess of their distribution (to no limit) should the PR later owe monies for estate obligations! A close reading of this type of document and a conversation with the PR usually resolves this language and charities may amend the documents to remove, or limit, any type of language requiring the payment of later funds.

Additionally, organizations may receive settlement authorizations for signature without receiving any other estate documentation. CCK’s team promptly and thoroughly reviews these documents and identifies what is missing in order to make an informed decision. Only when a client has all pertinent estate information can they make an informed decision on whether to agree to a particular settlement. CCK facilitates the receipt and review of such documents.

6. Confidence that no money is being left on the table.

CCK makes sure to request inventories and accountings from all personal representatives. An inventory is a list of all estate assets at the decedent’s date of death. Accountings are a list of all income, expenses, gains and losses, and disbursements from an estate. This helps to track all assets in an estate to confirm that all distributions have been made per the decedent’s wishes. For example, if a decedent specifically left real estate or the proceeds of the sale of real estate to a certain individual, the accounting helps to clarify that this bequest was distributed correctly. If a dispute arises in the estate, CCK can provide legal services, or at least advise and monitor throughout the administration process.

By the time that the estate has been fully distributed, a final accounting should be provided by the PR and it should be confirmed that all expenses have been paid and all assets have been distributed. If the PR intends on making multiple distributions, they may provide interim accountings prior to the final distribution.

7. On-the-spot legal analysis of all relevant documents and professional assessment of any potential problems.

CCK provides prompt analysis of instrument language, including competing instruments, donor’s intent, and rights of the non-profit client. The initial analysis takes place upon opening each file for each new bequest.

Once the pertinent documents are secured, identified, and saved, it is important to read them. While this sounds obvious, even straightforward estate planning documents can be time-consuming to review, interpret, and accurately synthesize. This can be especially true when bequests arrive in clusters, or planned giving departments are faced with competing priorities. CCK has a robust case management platform and experienced team whose singular focus is to review pertinent documentation accurately and efficiently.  Our interpretation of key provisions relative to our clients’ interests are saved and documented in a manner readily accessible to our non-profit clients.

Our prompt legal assessment enables the discovery of issues early on and a proposal for resolution. Discovering and resolving issues early is imperative for an efficient estate administration and for the assurance that the organization will receive the funds to which it is entitled.

8. A comprehensive record-keeping system for all bequests with an online dashboard access.

CCK’s Bequest Management practice is completely digitalized and utilizes a customized case management system with an online dashboard tailored to each non-profit client. CCK collects all matured bequest information and documentation into a single easily accessible and user-friendly database, customized for each client. Each client is provided a secure dashboard from which they may access real-time status updates, monitor the proactive management of matured bequests, and run status reports and projections. Everything is collected, organized, and actively managed in one place. Upon notification of a potential bequest, we immediately open a new file in the case management system. As a result, our automated checklist is activated which helps us manage the administration process. Important dates and deadlines are also included and tracked in the case file.

CCK thoroughly reviews all legal documentation, including all beneficiary designations; wills; trusts; probate proceedings; accountings; tax returns; and receipts and releases. All documents and CCK’s planned course of action are available to our non-profit clients in real time at no additional charge through the client portal.

This portal provides live data and is always accessible, allowing clients to monitor their bequest programs, our progress on matters, and run their own queries and reports. The donor page of the portal provides all the case information, i.e. bequest status (open or closed), date the bequest was opened/closed, in which state the donor lived, total projected value of the estate, whether the bequest is restricted, etc. If a bequest is restricted, that status is shown in red and the restricted language is provided.

Other important information included is the type of gift instrument, the language naming the non-profit/charity, the personal representative’s name and address, any distributions that have been received, and CCK’s Action Plan consisting of all notes in chronological order mapping out the history of the bequest administration.

Specific reports can be run such as files that have been closed during a specific time period. These reports can be exported to Excel and given to our client’s planned giving department to send out thank you/acknowledgement letters to the personal representatives and/or Trustees. Our clients have found this access to information invaluable to their donor relations and accounting departments. Our case management system with portal access and dashboard assists us in providing non-profits with the assurance of honoring the donor’s intent, maximizing bequests, accelerating distribution, eliminating internal administrative burdens, and minimizing administrative costs.

9. CCK’s skilled litigators can negotiate with competing beneficiaries and recalcitrant executors.

CCK is a nationally respected law firm, having established its reputation through public interest related work across the country. Our bequest management team is comprised of seasoned estate professionals, including skilled litigators, who work together to manage our client’s bequests. If issues arise in an estate administration that require legal attention, included in CCK’s contingency fee structure is access to seasoned litigators who will help negotiate, mediate, or litigate on behalf of our non-profit client. CCK’s fee does not arbitrarily escalate should an issue needing more attention arise. Our team works with our client to plan and execute how we will resolve administration issues and our fee is always on contingency; not hourly.

All of this work, skill, and attention is brought to bear for CCK’s clients, within our presumptive 3% fee structure. CCK does not add on ordinary expenses of running a law firm, such as charging for photo-copies, faxes, online legal research such as Westlaw or Lexis, ordinary postage, or local travel mileage. Our service is designed to be 100% contingent on funds secured for our clients, and we endeavor to do it all within a 3% fee structure. In the rare instance that a matter becomes sufficiently complex that the 3% fee is not appropriate, then client and CCK discuss and agree on an appropriate fee adjustment, always having the mutual goal of keeping fees contingent on outcome – avoiding unpredictable and high hourly fees.

In the event that a matter requires the expenditure of extraordinary funds, such as expert expenses, private investigation, skip tracing, overnight delivery, engagement of outside local litigation counsel, CCK discusses with the client an appropriate expenditure.

10. Disciplined approach to mitigating delays in receiving IRA and 401(k) assets.

Many donors leave their financial accounts to charities, whether they are life insurance policies, annuities, or IRAs (individual retirement accounts). Most financial institutions require personal information from a representative of the charitable organization when IRAs are ready to be liquidated or the proceeds are transferred to a charitable beneficiary. We believe this practice is intrusive and unjustified. Our team will contact the institution to inquire about alternatives to providing personal information of the representative.

We argue alternative approaches for our clients, and often we are successful in persuading institutions to waive the need for personal information of the representative. Sometimes institutions will not listen to reason or compromise and, in such instances, we are available to advise our clients regarding the pros and cons of compliance vs. dispute options. CCK, as counsel to our client, will do its best advocating directly with the financial institution’s general counsel, if necessary, to alleviate administrative burden and expedite the distribution of IRA assets.