Estate Planning and Charitable Giving in the Time of COVID: A Chat with Professional Advisor Renae Ransdell

The headline in The Chronicle of Philanthropy last September spoke volumes:
“New Report Shows Spike in Will Creation and Charitable Bequests During Covid-19.”

While fending off illness, job losses, social isolation, and fear, Americans were seemingly asking themselves, “How will I pass along my assets after my lifetime—and to whom? What will my legacy be? How can I support my favorite causes when I’m gone?”

For answers, many people turned to professional financial advisors for estate planning and charitable giving advice—and continue to do so.
The Community Foundation gratefully partners with many local professional advisors in order to help local residents realize their charitable visions.

Recently, we chatted with one: Renae Ransdell, senior vice president of Thomson Financial Management in Northampton. Here’s what she had to say about the intersection of financial planning, philanthropy, and COVID-19:

In your view, how has the pandemic changed the financial planning landscape?

Renae: In the past 12 months, people have given a lot more serious thought to estate planning. We are having conversations with more of our clients as they think deeply on these issues. We’re seeing more of them want to bring their adult children into the planning process. The pandemic has reminded them how quickly things can change. Instead of leaving loved ones to navigate an unfamiliar financial situation, people are bringing loved ones into the planning process before major life or end-of-life events occur.

How often do your clients say, “I want charitable giving to be part of my financial plan?”

Renae: Oh my goodness—all the time! We help them understand how to do that in the most thoughtful way possible.

What kinds of philanthropy “aha moments” have you seen in your clients when financial planning?

Renae: We have some clients who already have their charitable bequests outlined, but then through the financial planning process they realize they could give while they’re still with us. This lets them see their dollars impact and benefit communities instead of having to wait until after their lifetimes. With a plan, they realize, ‘I don’t have to worry about running out of money…I can work charitable giving into my spending plans today.’

In what ways is the Community Foundation a resource for you and
your clients?

Renae: By partnering with the Community Foundation, our clients benefit from the staff in tune with local charities and with ‘boots on the ground.’ Most of our clients have specific charities or causes that are near and dear to their hearts, and they want to be educated or more involved. When I see that clients are already giving charitably, we can discuss giving options such as donor advised funds, which may allow them to keep giving—and give more—while saving on taxes today. And the Community Foundation can inform clients on the most effective charities to impact their causes.

You talk about the “values” of Western Massachusetts residents. What have you observed in terms of their philanthropy?

Renae: I learn a lot from my clients, because there’s just so many different causes and ways they give back to their community, whether it’s with dollars or volunteering. And the inclination to be charitable runs so consistently among our clients. It’s a great experience for me to be able to help clients with their planning and benefit their communities, too.