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Philanthropist Chuck Feeney dies – a legacy of giving and how you can practice philanthropy beyond the grave


In the wake of the recent death of philanthropist Chuck Feeney, who quietly donated over $8 billion to various global causes, Natalie Comerford, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Lawyer, reflects on the power of giving and how you can continue to support charities and other organisations even after you are gone by including a charity in your Will.

Chuck Feeney – passionate philanthropist

Mr Charles “Chuck” Feeney died at his home in San Francisco on 9 October 2023, aged 92, a few years after achieving his goal of giving away his fortune to global philanthropy.

The business mogul and entrepreneur who co-founded massive airport retailer Duty-Free Shoppers (DFS) was well-known for his humanitarian approach to his multibillion-dollar fortune.

Through his charitable foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Mr Feeney gave away more than $8 billion in grants to causes in health, science, education and social action across five continents.

For decades, he had donated the money secretly, and he was well known for living frugally despite his enormous business success.

He set up the Atlantic in 1982 and transferred most of his assets to the foundation in 1984. The trustees had agreed to limit the entity’s life to a fixed term – and after making its final grant commitments at the end of 2016, it was dissolved in September 2020 as planned. The foundation claims it is the largest to deploy its entire endowment by the time it was intentionally shut.

Mr Feeney urged others to use their wealth to help people. And although his motto was: “It’s much more fun to give while you are alive than to give when you are dead,” most people simply cannot give as much as they’d like during their lifetime. Sometimes, cash is hard to part with when you struggle to make ends meet.

Instead, leaving a gift to charity in your Will can be an excellent way to support the charities you believe in even after you are gone.

Whether you are passionate about the world around you, the environment, animal welfare, education, or medical research, there are many ways to ensure your legacy endures by including charitable bequests in your Will.

How to leave a gift to charity in your Will

In December 2020, there were about 58,600 registered charities in Australia. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission registered 3,152 more charities in 2021-22.

Philanthropy Australia defines philanthropy as giving money, time, information, goods and services, influence and voice to improve humanity’s and the community’s well-being.

Unlike billionaires like Mr Feeney, many of us cannot give as generously as we would like during our lifetimes. And so, giving to charity in a Will presents a wonderful opportunity to make a significant impact.

No matter how much you give, charitable gifts can go further than you realise. Gifts from Wills are a significant source of income for many charities. With your gift, charities can support those who need it most.

If you want to leave a donation to a charity after you pass away, then having your Will drafted by an experienced estate planning lawyer will help make sure your intentions are legally binding.

Your gift can be as small or as big as you want. You can leave a monetary gift, a percentage of your estate or other assets.

There are five different types of gifts you can leave to charity in your Will, including:

    • Residue of your estate: this is where you leave the remainder of your estate after first leaving gifts to your loved ones and having any payments deducted, including your estate administration or funeral expenses.
    • Pecuniary or specific gifts: this is a specific donation you set out in your Will. It can be a monetary value, property, stock, or shares you specifically gift to your chosen charity.
    • A percentage or a fraction of your estate: gifting a percentage of your estate takes into account the changing values of your estate that can occur due to property fluctuations, inflation, or changes to your investments over time.
    • Leaving your whole estate: In most cases, this happens when a person doesn’t have any family or other preferred beneficiaries they wish to benefit from the estate. People may also leave their entire estate to charity when they want the charity to achieve something significant with their gift.
    • Set up a perpetual trust: you can set up a trust to benefit a charity or charities of your choice so that this continues perpetually. Usually, people name the trust after themselves or their family.

    Ensuring your wishes are upheld

    One of the main ingredients for this process is for you to make a legally valid Will or update an existing Will.

    An experienced estate planning lawyer can advise on the wording of the relevant clauses that should be included in the Will to ensure your legacy benefits the charity of your choice after you pass away.

    They can also discuss with you potential risks, such as the rights of family members who may be eligible to contest the Will.

    According to reports, Mr Feeney’s five children have been left money through their mother, his first wife. But if someone has surviving family members or close relatives that have not been provided for adequately, there could be a risk of that person, or persons, contesting the Will.

    That said, fear of a family provision claim shouldn’t stop you from bequeathing to a charity or foundation. According to Include a Charity’s Gifts in Wills Report 2023, only four to five per cent of endowments are affected by challenges from family members. Charities say they lose only three to four per cent of total estate income through such challenges, the report says.

    An experienced estate planning lawyer will be able to help you understand your legal obligations while using the best strategies to ensure your wishes are upheld after you are gone.

    By having your Will and other estate planning documents in order, such as an Enduring Power of Attorney, superannuation nominations, and Advanced Health Directives, you can save your family significant financial and emotional turmoil that goes with resolving disputes through the courts or lawyers when the time comes to make decisions regarding your estate.

    Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping you preserve your wishes and plan for the future

    Attwood Marshall Lawyers is a leading estate planning law firm with one of Australia’s largest and most experienced Wills and Estates teams. Our Wills and Estates lawyers practice exclusively in this complex area of law. They can help you plan, preserve, and protect your wishes.

    As a community-focused firm, we are proud to partner with several hard-working charities that help people and save lives. For over 18 years we have partnered with The Salvation Army to deliver Community Wills Days and help raise vital funds to support people in crisis.

    Through Community Wills Days, local events, sponsorships and donations, we are also proud to support Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, Special Children’s Christmas Parties, Australian Red Cross, Animal Welfare League Queensland, OzGreen, Family of League Foundation, The Busy Schools, and several local sporting groups.

    Through these partnerships, we enjoy taking the opportunity to connect with the community and help raise vital funds to enable these charities to continue the vital work they do for the community.

    The decisions you make about the assets you have worked hard to accumulate during your lifetime and who you want to benefit from these assets when you die is a highly personal decision. 

    If reading about other people’s philanthropic endeavours has inspired you, why not leave something in your Will for a charity to support a cause you are passionate about.

    To find out more about our estate planning services or how you can include a gift to a charity in your Will, contact our Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email or call our 24/7 phone line on 1800 621 071.

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    Natalie Comerford - Lawyer - Wills & Estates

    Natalie Comerford

    Wills & Estates

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    The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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