Becoming Charitable: Predicting and Encouraging Charitable Bequests in Wills
51 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2016 Last revised: 23 Feb 2016
Date Written: 2015
What causes people to leave their property to charity in their wills? Many scholars have explored the effects of tax laws on charitable bequests, but now that more than 99% of Americans’ estates are exempt from federal taxes, what non-tax factors predict charitable giving? This Article explores charitable bequests before the federal estate tax and a deduction for charitable bequests were enacted by Congress. By examining two years of probate files in Los Angeles and St. Louis, in which 16.6% of St. Louis testators, but only 8.3% in Los Angeles, made charitable bequests, we can begin to discern why testators in St. Louis were far more inclined to give to charity. The surprising results may help policy makers encourage those in the United States and in developing countries to give beyond their family and friends.
This Article is unique in that it is the first to examine not just whether a will included a charitable bequest, but whether the charity received it. This crucial information adds key insights to who gives to charity. In fact, if we compare the two cities by looking at charitable bequests which were actually received, St. Louis testators are even farther ahead of their Los Angeles counterparts, with 15% of St. Louis testators giving to charity compared to 6% in LA.
By examining hundreds of wills executed before the federal estate tax was enacted, we can see patterns for the vast majority of people who die with estates far too small to be impacted by the estate tax. Five clear steps emerge to ensure that testators will give to charity.
Keywords: charity, bequest, wills, tax
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