Guest opinion: Free help is available to write your will

Annalise Smith
Special to The News-Press
Annalise Smith

I can still see the anxiety on the faces of the family gathered at our hospice house: their beloved friend and brother was dying without a will. During his career as a professor, he had built an enviable reputation and a small fortune, as well as a collection of valuable artwork and antiques.

However, because he had not completed an estate plan, his family did not know what to do with the assets he would leave behind. They had no legal power to make decisions for him – they could not pay his bills, sell or give away his possessions, or make gifts on his behalf to the charities that reflected his interests and values. At a time when his family was frozen with grief, they were also frozen legally, unable to speak for the patient when he could not speak for himself.

August is National Make-A-Will Month, a reminder to consider how we want our assets to be distributed after we have passed. Wills are an important part of a comprehensive estate plan, which may include instructions on who should take custody of dependents and pets, who can step in to pay our bills when we can’t, and how we choose to be cared for at our end of life.

At Avow Foundation, we call this a “peace of mind plan” because it relieves the drafter and their heirs from worry about end-of-life issues that otherwise could be overwhelming, complex and/or expensive to resolve.

All our work at Avow Foundation is about peace of mind. We help community members understand how a will and estate plan can help them use their assets after their passing to support the people and the causes they love.

While we are not attorneys, we can give general guidelines about how various estate planning tools can help community members avoid taxes or probate court and protect their assets through charitable gifts. This free guidance can be helpful for those new to estate planning or those who don’t know quite where to start. We also offer planned giving information on our website at avowcares.giftplans.org.

Avow Foundation also helps people learn how to make charitable gifts that reflect their values – and are used appropriately by the recipients. For most of us, a donation to a charity is a resounding beat in our hearts: it is the life force that pushes who we are – and all the sacrifices we have made in our lifetimes – into the causes we love long after we are gone.

We deserve to know that our gifts will be cherished and used as we intend. Does a charity you like have a solid program to reach out regularly to its donors, for example? Does it welcome visits, report how donor gifts are used, and show the meaningful impacts they are making for their cause? Does it have a special membership group like Avow’s Living Legacy Society to recognize those who make a planned gift? Does the charity have top-quality ratings for its transparency on websites such as GuideStar? Does it work cooperatively with its local community foundation?

We understand that it’s easy to put off making a will or estate plan to “later” or “after” some future event in your life. Unfortunately, too many people like the patient described suffer an unexpected illness or disability that derails their lives and leaves loved ones unprepared to step in to help.

To help you get started, and in recognition of National Make-A-Will Month, Avow Foundation invites you to a free, no-obligation lunch and learn featuring attorney George Wilson of Wilson & Johnson, estate attorneys serving Southwest Florida families.

Annalise Smith, a Certified Fund Raising Executive, is the chief philanthropy officer for Avow Foundation. For more information, visit avowcares.org.


George Wilson will present “How to Avoid a Probate Administration! Keep Life Simple for your Family” on Tuesday, Aug. 30, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Ispiri community center on Avow campus, 1095 Whipporwill Lane in Naples. For a reservation, contact foundation@avowcares.org or call 239-261-4404.