Safety Pilot:

You can't take it with you

November 1, 2011

AOPA Foundation President Bruce LandsbergLife always comes with an expiration date. While it's kind of a downer—confronting your own mortality—I’m buoyed by the comments of Freddy Heineken, the late beer magnate. Freddy was reputed to have said something to the effect that the universe got along just fine in the four to five billion or so years before he came along. It didn’t bother him much during that rather long gestation period, so presumably it would be about the same afterward. We all have a variety of faith and psychological coping mechanisms to deal with the hereafter.

One way of coping is to leave a legacy—something that will outlast you. Some pilots leave very unflattering legacies after a fatal accident that reflects poorly on their airmanship or judgment, which is often the topic of this column as we all attempt to learn why. I’m proposing a much better deal. Leave a bequest.

The AOPA Foundation is one of general aviation’s great education institutions. It is the largest nongovernment GA safety provider in the world. In the past 10 years we’ve invested more than $30 million in seminars, online courses, and other forms of safety education. In the past year we’ve granted nearly $1 million toward improving the perception of GA, about $250,000 in looking at the economic impact of airports, and another $150,000 on pilot population initiatives. There will be more to come on that, and I’m happy to explain how a bequest will used.

Like many nonprofits, the AOPA Foundation has a Legacy Society, which explains how to make a deferred gift. There is a complete planned giving website with calculators and discussion on various approaches. There is no obligation. It can be complex or very simple. “Simple” is merely including the foundation in your will by designating a percentage or a dollar amount—as much or as little as you wish. Be sure to let us know so we can recognize you for your gift while you’re still able to enjoy it.

More complex financial situations may require a bit more planning, such as a charitable gift annuity where you actually get paid back, often at a far better rate than banks or certificates of deposit are offering. A remainder trust is yet another vehicle, and we can provide some guidelines on how to set up many of these instruments. Depending on how it’s structured, you can deprive the tax man of some of your hard-earned dollars—not that any of us would want the government to do without.

GA has benefited significantly through some bequests to the AOPA Foundation. Our largest bequest set up an endowment that results in about 20 additional safety programs and the production of an online course annually. It was given by a pilot who wanted to be remembered for what he did and who he was. Manny Maciel, an immigrant from the Azores, ran a small fuel concession in Sonoma County, California, for more than a half-century. An AOPA member and pilot, he lived modestly but was well known in the community. Prior to his final flight west, he directed that $3 million of his estate come to the AOPA Foundation for aviation safety. Manny is no longer with us, but he is remembered fondly and known for his legacy. That’s a nice thought!

In the short term, I hope to get no benefit out of the bequests asked for here since the foundation’s mission is to keep pilots alive and flying for a long time, but, eventually, when one can fly without manmade wings, you will no longer need manmade assets, either.

Sir Isaac Newton, who had more than a little to do with laws of physics that govern aviation, is reputed to have said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We’ve been given this wonderful gift of flight. Now it’s our turn to pay it forward and to keep that freedom alive! The AOPA Foundation’s four initiatives—safety, improving GA’s image, preserving airports, and growing the pilot population—are aimed at making our activity healthier so the next generation has an opportunity to savor flight in light aircraft.

Some say we stay airborne because of Bernoulli and some because of Bernanke, although the latter might be debated. Funding is as essential to flight as fuel, which you can’t get without funding. So it is with organizations, and if the organization is doing the right thing, support it.

Finally, I’m reminded of a former flight student of mine, Fred, who was contemplating upgrading from a Cessna 172 to a 182. I told him to go for it, but he was worried about the cost (yet he could certainly afford it!). I told him he couldn’t take it with him, to which he replied that if that were the case, he wasn’t going. Despite that, several years later he did, unfortunately, prove that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

We might be able to offer you a better alternative, at least on the tax side of the equation.

AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg began his career in the U.S. Air Force.