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What’s in a Name?

Shaarei Kodesh is a Conservative congregation  in Boca Raton, Florida.  On its website, it likens itself to the TV series “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. Unfortunately for Shaarei Kodesh, not everyone did.  Because of that, it could lose a $3 million bequest.

According to the Palm Beach Post,  Nathaniel Rosenfeld, who  died in 1997, instructed his two sisters to name which charities should benefit from his estate. The sisters, now also deceased,  directed 89% of their brother’s  estate to Congregation Beth Tikvah, which they helped found. They allocated the balance for several other charities. Beth Tikvah merged with Congregation Shaarei Kodesh in 2007; the combined congregation took on the name Shaarei Kodesh.

However, the congregations neglected to file articles of merger with the State of Florida.  That’s the gist  of the problem: the documents specified that the Jewish organizations chosen by the sisters had to exist in compliance with IRS charity codes at the time of his Rosenfeld’s death.  If not, the remaining charities were to receive equal shares. This pits Hadassah, ORT, Americans for Peace Now, and the Blumenthal Home for the Aged in North Carolina against Shaarei Kodesh, which maintains that it’s the legitimate primary beneficiary of the Rosenfeld bequest.  A trial date has been set for June.

To avoid similar problems, be sure to specify the correct name of your charitable beneficiaries.   If you’re an animal lover, putting “Humane Society” in your bequest would be problematic.  You need to list the exact name of the organization, such as “Nebraska Humane Society.” Consider including the organization’s tax identification number. Tax ID numbers for many nonprofits can be found at www.guidestar.com.

In addition to naming an intended charity, also add  “….or its successor organization.”  In years past, many people made provision for the United Jewish Appeal, but nowadays UJA no longer exists. When the Council of Jewish Federations and UJA merged 1999, it become the United Jewish Communities.  Later it was renamed the Jewish Federations of North America.  Questions still arise about the “problem” of bequests made out to UJA.

Our lives change regularly– often dramatically.  Charities also are subject to change.  Sometimes their missions change, sometimes just their names. Because a rose by any other name may not smell as sweet,  work with an estate planning professional to update your will for accuracy to assure that your true intentions will be honored.

 Jackie Jacobs is the CEO of the Columbus Jewish Foundation, the Central Ohio Jewish community’s planned giving and endowment headquarters.

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