Lessons from the Crypt by Janet Aldrich Jacobs

Lessons from the Crypt

By Janet Aldrich Jacobs

It may seem strange, but I get excited when I see a package from a law firm in my inbox. My heart skips a beat. I can’t wait to tear open the envelope and see what’s inside.

Most often it’s notification that my organization was chosen to receive a bequest by some wonderful person we’ve never heard of who has left us a donation in his or her will. I love looking to see if this person is in our database, talking with the attorney or personal representative, and piecing together whatever I can to tell some small part of this generous person’s story.

Who was she? What was her connection to Make-A-Wish? Why did she choose us? Is there anyone—a spouse, a child, a nephew—who I can call to understand more about her, to express how very grateful we are for this gift and what a difference it will make in the lives of the kids we serve?

If I can piece together a story, I often learn a thing or two about life. Here are a few lessons those who have left us a bequest in their wills have taught me.

Love others

“He never had any kids of his own, but he never met a child he didn’t love,” said Dan, a close friend of Tom Dewhirst—better known as “Dooley”—and personal representative of his estate. Dooley had lots of friends. He lived a rich life, but he had a particularly soft spot for children. He could imagine what it would be like to be a sick child and he wanted to do something to ease that sorrow and restore the joy of childhood, if only for a day.

Dooley never met the kids his bequest benefitted. That’s not what mattered to him. It was the thought of how his planned kindness could help heal kids he would never know.

Live simply

If you grew up without much, you may realize you don’t really need all that much.

Some of the largest bequests ever received in this community have come from the most modest of people. Like Agnes Griffin, a successful businesswoman who preferred a low profile and a frugal lifestyle. Agnes did not have children and had the money to do anything, but she valued the real essentials—health, friendships and community. To the surprise of many, she left almost $40 million to 12 charities.

Life is short

We recently received a bequest from a fisherman from Skagit County. Joe Niderost wasn’t known by our organization. He’d never made a gift to us. I found a brief obituary online. Joe lived a modest life. He never married. He had no kids. And he was 56 when he died from Alzheimer’s-related health problems. I’m 53 right now. Let’s just say my eyes widened when I read his age. I’m setting up the appointment early next week to sign our updated will. Are you ready?

You don’t have to be rich

Almost anyone can make a future gift. Your name doesn’t need to end in Gates or Buffett to proclaim what you care about most, and have a real and lasting impact on your community. Pick a charity (or several!) that resonates with your values and name it in your will. Or even easier, make it a beneficiary of your Individual Retirement Account or life insurance policy. You just need to fill out a beneficiary designation form to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be the only beneficiary or get all of it. Just some of it.

What you leave is completely up to you, and if there’s nothing left in the end, so be it. But don’t make the mistake of assuming there will be nothing left. Of course, you won’t be here to find out, but if you could be, you might be surprised. Most bequests come from people whose names never made the news—or the Forbes 500.

Need help getting started? Visit www.leave10.org for tips and tools about how to begin. And while you’re there, sign the pledge to leave at least 10 percent to charity. Just that simple act will get you going.

[Janet (Jan) Aldrich Jacobs, CFRE, CAP®, is vice president for mission advancement at Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington, and Leave 10 board member. Reach her at jan(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)akwa.wish.org.]


My partner and I are proud to have named many non-profits in our will as part of our estate planning. These are the institutions that have nourished us, help save the lives of others, and protect the environment for generations to come. It is a privilege to carry our work forward!

Deb Crespin
There are many causes we care about deeply. Supporting them during our lifetimes brings us great joy. We know gifts we leave behind will make a meaningful difference in the lives of others and ensure the future strength of organizations that make for a better world.
Sarah Valentine

Investing in the non-profit sector has been a rewarding part of my life – and I know both my community and my business are stronger today because of it. Joining with others to explore ways we can make our communities thrive today and long after I’m gone just makes sense!

Michael Schaefer


Leave 10 aims to build better communities and transform as many people as possible into philanthropists by educating, inspiring and encouraging individuals to aspire to leave at least 10% of their estate to charity.

Our Mission

Leave 10 aims to build better communities and transform as many people as possible into philanthropists by educating, inspiring and encouraging individuals to aspire to leave at least 10% of their estate to charity.