indicatorBuilding your philanthropic legacy

Legacy gifts made simpler

Avoid paralysis-by-analysis when considering what you’ll leave behind.

By Darin Bruin, Senior Financial Advisor, RRC, CFP 3 May 2024 5 min read

legacy document

What do you want to leave behind when you pass? Answering this question is a deeply personal and philosophical exercise. Guiding clients through this topic is a major part of my practice as a financial advisor, and I’m often fascinated by how people tackle it.

I’ve also seen how challenging it is for many people to consider their future selves—and not only in connection with the psychological discomfort one might feel about considering the world after the end of your life. There are many practical concerns that can trip people up.

Most of the questions I receive about one’s legacy stem from the unknowns surrounding the end of a life. Say you’re a philanthropist and you want your legacy to include a major gift—the keystone in the arch of generosity you have spent a lifetime building.

But planning your final legacy gift can seem like trying to hit a moving target in the dark. That means you can’t know the exact value of your estate at the time the gift will be received, or the precise tax and legal implications of the future. If it’s been a while since you reviewed your will, the charity you have in mind might not be around, or it might have shifted its focus in a way that no longer aligns with your values.

Trying to account for all of these variables can cause paralysis by analysis in planning for a charitable gift as part of your legacy.

But it doesn’t have to. These are some tips on creating a clear, powerful plan for your legacy, developed from my years of experience helping clients do that.


1: Set yourself up by giving while living.

I always stress to clients that they shouldn’t underestimate the power of giving more during their lifetimes. Most people, in my experience, prefer to give with a warm hand over a cold one when this is practical and possible.

The main benefit of this is that you can see the impact of your philanthropy yourself. This will be intensely meaningful and gratifying.

Giving while living has an important advantage for legacy gifts too—it establishes your philanthropic mindset as part of your legacy to your family, friends, and financial team.


2: Boost your “will power.”

Most people are aware of the importance of a will for their legacy, but the complexities and common pitfalls of crafting a will can be overwhelming.

As a general rule, your will should not contain any surprises. The people who read it after you pass should recognize your values and ideas in the document. Surprising wills, in my experience, often cause disagreement and even division among friends and family of the deceased.

This can be avoided by clearly articulating your values in your will and by telling people what’s in your will before you pass—including telling the charity that you’ve selected that they’ve been chosen for a gift.

If a charity is in your will as one of multiple beneficiaries, think carefully about the type of bequest you use.. Naming a charity as a residual beneficiary (that is, bequeathing them a percentage of your estate) can create unintended outcomes. Even if the will is completely clear and execution goes off without a hitch, the charity may still choose to hire a lawyer to verify that they have received the proper portion of your estate. This will eat into the funds the charity receives.

In contrast, granting a specific bequest, such as a specific asset or a fixed dollar amount to give to the charity, can provide certainty to the charity and your executors.. Note that all specific bequests should be regularly reviewed as your wealth and estate value change. This is another reason to regularly update your will.


3: Capture the low-hanging fruit.

Two of the most powerful tools in the hands of a philanthropist looking to craft a strong estate plan are beneficiary designations and life insurance policies.

Beneficiary designation is naming the charity as the recipient of a registered investment you hold like a TFSA or RRIF. Such transfers are very common and your legal and financial advisors can update your will and account documentation to include one or more beneficiaries.

Likewise, naming a charity as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy is very common.

(Incidentally, using percentage designations, like “I bequeath 25% of my TFSA and 25% of my life insurance policy to Charity X” is very common and suitable practice.)


4: Consider a DAF.

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is another powerful tool for building a legacy that will last. A charitable gift to a DAF can be disbursed to as many receiving charities as you’d like over many years in life or after death.

The ATB Investor Services Foundation provides DAFs to empower your philanthropic legacy by stewarding the growth of your initial gift over time to build the momentum beyond the initial value of your gift.

The granting process to a receiving charity from DAFs is much more flexible than wills, and the receiving charities can be easily changed, similar to beneficiary designations. This makes them inexpensive to update in the event you’d like to remove or add a new charity to your ongoing or future legacy considerations.

DAFs can add an important facet to a philanthropist’s legacy by extending their support of charities for years after the donor’s passing. The successor advisors appointed by the initial donor, who are often family members, can also become involved in the annual gifting process. By seeing the DAF in action, the next generation can pick up the torch of your legacy.


While no one likes thinking about their own death, the idea of creating a charitable legacy when you are no longer able to give it is a great motivator to take action. The right advisor will discuss personalized strategies to enlighten the legacy target at which you aim. This can provide peace of mind and more. I am happy to connect with you to discuss your situation and questions you may have.


ATB Wealth experts are ready to listen.

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced investor, we can help.