A $40 Million Estate With No Will Or Relatives!!!

There is an interesting article in Sunday’s New York Times about Roman Blum. Mr. Blum was a Holocaust survivor who became a successful real estate developer. He and his wife didn’t have any children. He outlived his wife, and recently died with no will, amassing a fortune of more than $40 million.

Wouldn’t we all like to be his lost relative!!

Today, I want to share with you the story about Linda. Linda and her husband Larry were by no means as rich as Roman Blum. They did very well. And they both had wills.

Linda just passed away at the age of 88. Her husband Larry had passed away 4 years ago. They had raised their family in a community in the Northeast. And they had been congregants at Temple ABC for more than 50 years. Since they were newly married and moved to the area.

Their children did the usual: Hebrew School, B’nai Mitzvah, even a little Youth Group. Both Linda and Larry did stints on the synagogue Board of Trustees. And years ago, when the Sisterhood was very active, Linda was one of its leaders.

Larry had been a partner in a well-known law firm in the area. Linda had been a public school teacher in a neighboring town for 25 years. She retired more than 20 years ago.

10 years ago, they decided to spend 6 months of the year – and one day – in Boca Raton, and the rest of the time back in their home community. As many of you know, there is a tax advantage to being a Florida resident, a state with no income tax. Two of their three children lived within a 2-hour ride of their home community. They wanted to be with family – especially grandchildren – at holidays and other family occasions.

A much younger law partner at Larry’s firm recently wrote to the synagogue to let the rabbi know that Linda had named the synagogue as a beneficiary in her will. When the estate settles in the coming months, the synagogue will receive a check for $50,000.

No one from the synagogue ever asked Larry or Linda to do this. At various times when they were re-writing their wills or doing estate planning, Larry’s law partner responsible for wills and estates simply asked them what charities were important to them. The synagogue was always at the top of the list among other charities, after of course providing for their children and grandchildren.

This story might have ended differently.

Let’s say Larry and Linda became involved in a synagogue in Florida. Or active participants at a seniors program at the JCC. The rabbi who they had known and loved for many years retired and moved away. They thought the new rabbi seemed young and energetic, but he was different. And he was on vacation, away at camp, or on a congregational Israel trip for some of the time when they were back from Florida.

The estate-planning lawyer may have asked the question “what is important to you”, and the response could have easily not included the synagogue.

The point here is this: your synagogue’s bequest program should not just depend on luck. For people who have remained congregants for many years, ask them to name the synagogue in their will. Establish a Legacy Giving Circle. Recognize those in life who have provided for the synagogue in death through their wills and other financial instruments such as life insurance or charitable remainder trusts.

And don’t be afraid to ask.

Check out my blog from last August on this topic. It is a little dense with a lot of data and IRS facts. My advice is simple: having a bequest program in place with a plan for stewardship and on-going engagement will bode well for your synagogue in the future.






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