More Than Money
Issue #32

Passing the Torch: The Great Wealth Transfer

Table of Contents

“BANG for the BUCK - Long-term Legacy”

What comes to mind when you think of the legacy of Benjamin Franklin? He left the world richer through his contributions as a statesman, author, printer, inventor, scientist, musician, and philosopher. (See the book review of Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan, p. 33.) But did you know that his Last Will and Testament contained a legacy that produced millions of dollars for charitable causes, and continues to do so to this day?
   The majority of his estate went to his daughter and other family members. However, in a codicil to his will ( http:// sln.fi.edu/franklin/family/lastwill.html ), Franklin noted that he attributed his success in life to the support he received as a young artisan in Philadelphia and Boston. Wanting to repay that civic debt and invest in the society’s future—and knowing the value of combining cash, time, and interest—Franklin set aside 2000 pounds sterling to be invested at interest and held in trust for the benefit of the citizens of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts—for two hundred years (from the time of his death in 1791 until the fund’s maturity in 1991).
   Franklin understood that over the course of time, circumstances would change. He tried to anticipate various conditions, but realized he couldn’t cover everything that might happen. So he left certain decisions to the people who administered the trust after his death. Over the decades, a variety of managers interpreted Franklin’s wishes, and at times, those decisions have been heavily contested. Nonetheless, Franklin’s bequest generated millions for his favored causes, with some of those original remaining funds now reinvested to continue the legacy. In Boston, the $100,000 reinvested at the end of the first hundred years grew to $5 million at the end of the second hundred years. In Philadelphia, the $39,274 reinvested at the end of the first hundred years grew to $2,256,952.05 by the end of the second hundred years.
   Beneficiaries of the original fund— grown large over time and managed with creative response to the needs of the times—have included schools, businesses, museums, and public service organizations. As one example, Franklin wished to help young apprentices. What to do with the designated funds when career training no longer included apprenticeship? Trustees founded the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. That namesake school has offered training opportunities to more than 80,000 people, and Franklin might be amazed to know that many of them are women.
   Although many prefer to fund high-impact projects now, rather than later, Benjamin Franklin’s foresight is an outstanding example of the bang for the buck that long-range planning can deliver.


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