Linguistics: Big Impact For a Small Department
Tax and estate planning attorney Kip Schur talks about designating U-M as a beneficiary of his SEP-IRA, and his direction that the funds be used to support the Department of Linguistics
by Kristen Loszewski
As a tax and estate planning attorney, Warren (Kip) Schur (A.M., Linguistics 1974, J.D. '76) understands how to optimize planned giving and charitable gift strategies. He's been advising clients on complex estate and tax issues, including charitable giving strategies, to develop plans which specifically address their individual needs for over 40 years.
As a proud alumnus, he also understands the importance of giving back to the institutions that have educated and prepared you for success—your alma mater or, in his case, alma maters. He has included annual gifts to each of the three institutions he attended in his charitable giving every year. A native New Englander, Kip received his first degree, an A.B. from Harvard University (Philosophy, 1969), before entering the Navy. After his time on active duty, he headed west for graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he earned an A.M. in Linguistics. Married and with a family by then, he decided to forego a Ph.D. and enrolled at the University of Michigan Law School.
"I never had a lot of money to give but I think it's very important to support the institutions that provided your education," says Kip, who also makes calls to fellow Harvard College alumni for its annual giving program. "It's important to make a contribution to demonstrate your pride in being an alumnus and a member of that distinct community."
While raising a family and concentrating on sending his own kids to school, he couldn't afford to give large sums, but as he got older he began to think about how he could make a more substantial gift. Kip considered where his giving might have the most impact. He'd attended three distinguished institutions, but always felt an especially fond connection to U-M Linguistics. He also considered the fact that Michigan's prestigious Linguistics department had fewer (and likely less affluent) alumni than either Harvard College or Michigan Law. He could honor the compelling and innovative work that Linguistics is doing to understand language as a human phenomenon, and provide transformational support to a community that had been a meaningful part of his life—and do so in a simple, tax-efficient way.
"When considering my own estate plan, I realized I could apply the same strategies I share with my clients. My children have their own successful careers and are financially secure, and it became more compelling to leave some portion of my estate to the university," says Kip of his decision. "Impactful charitable giving doesn't always mean establishing a large trust—you don't have to be extremely wealthy. I knew I could easily designate a percentage of whatever would be left over from my retirement funds following my death in a smart way."
So, last year, Kip designated the University of Michigan as a 10% death beneficiary of his SEP-IRA account and, by documenting his bequest with the University, directed that his gift is to be used to support the Linguistics department.
"I thought I'd start by naming Linguistics as a 10% beneficiary. It was really simple to do, I was able to do it all myself online by logging into my IRA account," says Kip of the process. "You don't need a lawyer (or to be a lawyer), and you can change it at any time, up until the time of your death, depending on your financial situation or preferences."
Donating retirement plan assets
Donating retirement plan assets, like IRAs and 401(k)s, is a "tax efficient" technique that directly benefits the University of Michigan and future Wolverines with the full amount of the funds designated. Retirement fund assets are subject to income taxes when they are distributed to heirs--reducing their inheritance by as much as 50%. As a nonprofit institution, however, the University of Michigan is exempt from these taxes and will receive the full amount of the funds. The university can be designated as the primary sole beneficiary, or for a percentage or specific amount. U-M can also be made the contingent beneficiary so that it will receive the balance of a plan only if the primary beneficiary doesn't survive you.
It's also important—and beneficial—to share with us that you have included the university in your estate plan. When you share your intentions with Michigan, you help ensure that your gift will have the impact you intend. It also allows us to keep you apprised of new programs or developments that may impact your gift. Estate gifts are a crucial source of continuing support for the university. When you document your bequest, you help us continue to fulfill our mission while inspiring other alumni and friends to follow your lead. It also gives the university the opportunity to offer recognition of your intended giving during your lifetime.
"People should feel very comfortable letting the university know that they're making these kinds of plans. It's a sophisticated organization and knows that 20 years from now I might have to make changes," Kip advises. "You're not creating a legal, enforceable obligation, you're simply telling the university that this is your current plan, but it's not an irrevocable commitment."
Of his decision to support linguistics and the humanities, Kip adds, "The whole reason we need people to run countries, and build bridges, and enforce laws, and drive trucks is to support the small number of people who pursue the humanities. What's the point of human life if it's not to explore the universe and the world of the mind and to try to figure out how things work? What Linguistics is doing is really important. That's what we should all be aiming for, to create a species that expands its knowledge and its understanding. I think it's important to support that and it makes me feel great to do it."