Jul 13, 2009

Did Michael Jackson Leave Your Nonprofit Any Money?

According to reports (not only by the tabloids, but from reputable sources like the Wall Street Journal), the late "King of Pop" named at least one, and possibly more, charitable organizations in his estate plan.

That's not too surprising, given that Jackson was a supporter of many charitable causes during his life. Is there anyone who can't at least hum "We Are the World," the song he wrote with Lionel Richie in 1985 and performed with a large group of well-known musicians to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia?

But we're not likely to find out which charities Jackson named unless they themselves make it public (with the estate's consent). As Nolo's estate planning expert Mary Randolph explains, "A will is a matter of public record, and Michael Jackson's is already available online. However, like many wealthy people or celebrities seeking privacy, he left all his assets to a family trust, the terms of which will not be made public."

If your charity doesn't get a call from Jackson's estate soon, you can still take away one hopeful lesson: Big gifts can come from donors who aren't currently able to give you a lot of money. Michael Jackson died with an estimated $500 million debt hanging over his head. Yet his assets, such as his 50% stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, are believed to be worth far more than that: around $700 million.

What's more, you don't have to delve deep into the world of planned giving (and charitable annuities and so forth) in order to let donors know that your organization is a worthy recipient of simple estate gifts. Just continue building relationships with donors, remind them every so often that remembering their favorite charities in their will or other estate planning vehicle is a great way to leave a legacy, and provide information about how you're positioned to use such gifts in a lasting, meaningful way. (For more details on such early steps toward a planned giving program, see the article, "Nonprofit Fundraising Through Inherited Gifts.")