By Norah Machia
A recent study published in Discovery Magazine noted that “giving to charity makes us happier; especially when we freely choose to give. Whether we have a little or a lot of money, how we choose to spend it matters most to our happiness.”
Iris Buczkowski, owner of Birch Wealth Management in Rome, knows this firsthand and shares her experiences of giving with clients as part of their estate planning. Showing people how they can help others is the favorite part of her job, said Iris, a registered investment advisor.
Her company serves clients throughout the Central New York region and nationwide. Iris has more than 20 years of experience in the finance industry and started her business four years ago.
Because her last name is not easily pronounced or spelled, Iris decided to come up with a different business name, one that was symbolic of new beginnings. In researching a name for her business, Iris discovered that birch trees were not only symbolic of new beginnings, but also symbolize resilience in Native American culture.
When Iris helps clients who want to manage their estates through planned giving programs, she first works with them to determine their priorities. “Every person has unique goals, and we bring ideas to people based on those goals,” she said. For example, clients may want to support agencies that have helped them or their family members during a difficult time, such as a medical crisis.
“There are many ways of planned giving,” including capital campaign pledges, legacy bequests, trusts and university endowments, Iris said. “I love giving people many different options,” she added.
A native of Vernon, Iris earned both a master’s degree in finance (with a technology management concentration) and a bachelor’s degree in finance at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
“We work hard to accumulate our wealth, and we should have a say in where it goes,” she said. “That’s why estate planning is so important.”
Although part of estate planning may involve leaving a bequest to an organization to be given after a person passes away, there are also options to give while a person is still living.
“It’s about what a person wants to accomplish, both in the short and long term,” she said. When people make philanthropic gifts during their lifetime, it allows them to see the impact that they have on others, she said. “It’s inspiring to do more when you see the impact of your gift,” she said. “People want to be part of something, and giving makes them feel good.”
There are ways to leverage money to make even larger donations, she said. For example, a person could purchase a life insurance policy and name a charitable organization as the beneficiary.
Iris made this type of legacy gift to the Upstate Foundation because of the exceptional care that was provided to her oldest daughter, who is autistic, by the Golisano Center for Special Needs at Upstate Medical Center. Her donation will help to establish an endowment to support the needs of the center for future generations.
“I support a ton of organizations,” said Iris, who is married and raising three children. “Ten percent of my revenue goes to local charities.”
“You don’t have to be a high-earning individual to make an impactful gift,” she added. For example, a person could donate an annual required minimum distribution from a retirement plan to a qualified charity, and that distribution would not be taxable.
Some clients want to start giving money to their children or other family members from their estates before they pass away. Tax laws allow for gifts of up to $17,000 per individual without incurring a gift tax. It’s not uncommon for clients to want to give their children money for a variety of reasons – college tuition, weddings, or help in buying their first home, Iris said.
“People can enjoy the impact they’re making” for their family or a nonprofit organization when they give money during their lifetime, she said. Philanthropy can also be in the form of giving time and talent, and a significant contribution to an organization can be made through volunteer work, Iris said.
Iris also specializes in special needs planning for those who have a family member with a physical, intellectual or developmental disability. It’s an area that has deep personal meaning to Iris, as she has done a great deal of planning for her daughter.
“Caring for a child with special needs is multifaceted,” she said. Regardless of the size of an estate, it’s important to have critical documents in place to protect a family member with special needs, said Iris. Supplemental needs trust planning can help families with these concerns.
Birch Wealth Management also offers eldercare and estate planning. For more information: www.birchwealth.com