From the mailbag

MU Extension often receives inquiries about giving specifics, very similar to the letter below. You’ll see how James O. Preston, in the Office of Gift Planning and Endowments at the university, responds in the bold, indented paragraphs.

Write us! Direct your comments and inquiries to Cynthia Crawford at or 109 Whitten Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.

Dear MU Extension,

I’m not quite sure how to start this letter. I’ll just ramble a bit and then ask some questions that are on my mind this morning. Perhaps with an empty nest and retirement on the horizon, my husband and I are getting a bit sentimental.

We’ve been blessed — not with huge wealth — but with enough to get along and, perhaps, a little bit more. We’ve worked hard for our money and we manage it very carefully.

I know extension, like other agencies, has not had a growing budget from state and federal government. Take into account inflation over the years, and the public dollars just aren’t enough to get the job done. Doing more with less is a good sound bite on the news but doesn’t work long-term in a world that gets more and more complex.

Pat and I would like to help extension, but we don’t exactly know how and I need to emphasize that we don’t have anything close to the multi-million dollar gifts that I occasionally see announced given to Mizzou.

I’ll just jump in with questions.

photo: Portrait of James O. Preston
Answers in the boxes below were provided by Senior Director of Advancement James O. Preston of MU’s Office of Gift Planning and Endowments. Contact him at 800-970-9977.

One of our concerns is outliving the money that we do have set aside. Because we don’t know how long we’ll live or how much money we’ll need, we would feel more comfortable planning to give money when the second one of us passes. That way we’ll know that we keep our money available for our retirement years if we need it. Can extension deal with plans for delayed giving?

Yes. Delayed giving is often called planned giving and provides the most flexibility in a donor’s financial plans. The most common planned gift is a bequest through a will. Extension works closely with the MU Office of Gift Planning to help donors make such gifts and with the families and their representatives when a loved one has included MU Extension in his or her will.

I could see how extension would prefer a gift now and realize, worst case, we could plan a gift and then end up needing that money for our use and there wouldn’t be anything left for extension. I’m thinking that puts extension in an awkward place, even though it would be better for us.

Whatever is best for you is best for extension. Whether you make the gift now or defer your gift through a bequest, for example, we are grateful for your generosity.

So, if we make a gift to extension, does extension pick where the money goes and what it is spent on? Who makes those decisions and how are they decided?

You make the decision about how your gift is used by extension. As long as you tell us how, extension is obligated by law to follow your carefully documented instructions.

If I want our estate to make a gift, what do we need to do so our wishes will really happen?

You need a will, and you need to have an attorney help you create your will documents. If you do not have a will, then what happens to your estate upon your death is dictated by the state no matter what your wishes. If you do not sign your will documents, the state will decide how your estate is distributed. Having sound legal advice from an attorney familiar with estate and tax law will ensure a better outcome and give you confidence in your plans.

We are very private about our money. Is there any reason the university would need or want to know about it until our estate is opened? Would we be required, for example, to provide copies of our estate planning documents to the university when they are made? There’s a lot of information in there that wouldn’t pertain to the gift, and I’m not comfortable providing all of it to you.

We will work closely with you to maintain the level of privacy you prefer. All communications with the MU Office of Gift Planning is completely confidential. The only time information is shared about a planned gift is when the donors give their full permission. We encourage donors to share copies of their will or other pertinent documentation of their gift so that we are prepared to fulfill the wishes you convey through your plans. Any documents shared are kept under lock and key and completely confidential.

At the time the gift is planned, would you announce the gift publicly or would the planned gift be kept quiet? Part of me says announcing it might plant a seed of thought that others do the same (which would be good), but then the private part of me says we would be reluctant to have our private planning announced. So, how would it be handled?

Telling the stories of our donors may provide the encouragement others need to do the same. Donors decide for themselves whether to share their story publicly. We will not share any information about your gift without your explicit permission.

If we make a gift from our estate, would you prefer that the amount be written as a number, like $25,000 or would it be better to set aside a percentage, like 5 percent?

A bequest can be made as a percentage of an estate, as a specific amount from the estate, or as a specific property or other named assets. That decision is one that a donor should make with the advice of his or her financial adviser.

How would you suggest we talk to our children about our choices to give to extension and to two charities that also have a special place in our hearts?

Anyone who has a tangible interest in your estate plans should be included in the conversation at some point, especially children who will be most directly impacted by the choices you make through your will. You choose the time that is best to share. Telling your children about your charitable plans becomes a teaching moment for passing your values to loved ones.