Nobel Prizes Were A Planned Gift

1893:  Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel (1823 - 1895), the inventor of dynamite (1867) and ballistite, a smokeless gunpowder (1869).  He left the fortune he made from the manufacture of explosives in trust for the five annual Nobel prizes.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I think about this every year. Alfred Nobel created the prizes in his will, with a bequest. A charitable bequest. That is the most popular of all the planned gifts and the bedrock of every Planned Giving program. I explained why in this 2009 article for GuideStar, “Get Going On Planned Giving.” (I think I could have done a better job with that title.) Nobel was an ideal prospect for a charitable bequest because he had no immediate family. He never married. Don’t end your prospect list there, but if you’re looking for a good starting point, it gets no better than people who love your work and have no close relatives.

He didn’t go about it the right way though. He wrote the will himself. That’s called a holographic will and it can create problems. It did for Nobel. Other family challenged the will. He left a big chunk of his estate to fund the prizes and that angered his heirs who felt shortchanged. A holograph greatly increases the chances that a gift to your charity will be challenged.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 14:  (L-R) New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, deputy prime minister of Sweden Margareta Winberg, and Haakon Magnus, the Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, applaud after unveiling the new Nobel Monument October 14, 2003 at Theodore Roosevelt park in New York City.  The city of New York unveiled a monument to Alfred Nobel October 14, commorating the Swedish philanthropist and the hundreds of Americans who have won the prize that bears his name. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Strongly advise your donors to have a lawyer prepare wills that contains gifts to your charity. Plead with them if you have to. If they flatly refuse–and some will–their gift is less likely to make its way to you than if they had hired an attorney.

The Nobel prizes would have been awarded five years earlier, but the will contest took that long to resolve.

There’s a cool 17-minute slide show about his will (and the gun-toting intrigue around it), and its actual language at

5 thoughts on “Nobel Prizes Were A Planned Gift

  1. The Ford Foundation was also a planned gift, designed to eliminate all estate taxes and keep control of the Ford Motor Company in the family. Unlike Nobel, though, Henry Ford had excellent advice, recapitalizing the company and donating only nonvoting shares to his foundation. Even with a 90% estate tax rate, he kept 100% control of the company in the family. Edsel followed suit, but the 1969 tax act precluded further use of the strategy.

  2. The Ford Foundation, too, was a planned gift, but, unlike Nobel, Henry Ford had brilliant advice. He recapitalized his company, donating non-voting shares to his Foundation, avoiding all estate tax (@90%) and keeping 100% control of the company in his family with only 10% of the outstanding shares. Edsel Ford used the same strategy, but the 1969 tax act finally put the kabosh on it.

  3. Nobel didn’t have a will — incredible. This is a great story that’s “about” planned giving, but is of interest to anyone.

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