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Planned Giving

Spheres of Influence: Sylven Beck and the Impact of a Life

Sylven Beck

Sylven Beck and Bruce LaVal

Sylven Beck has made a career of influencing others. But not in the way one might expect in the nation's capital. Even though she's not an elected official, a lobbyist or a high-powered attorney, her work is making an impact, just blocks away from the White House and throughout the United States.

For the last 30 years, Beck has been a professor of elementary education at the George Washington University, instructing and mentoring some of the brightest aspiring teachers in the country. Her role at GW's Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD) is definitively prolific: she inspires and teaches students who then inspire and teach others, their own elementary students. And after 30 years and hundreds of students, Beck's impact extends nationwide.

But her influence is not confined to the classroom. In 1996, Beck's mentor and former colleague, Dr. Gloria Horrworth, created the Sylven Seid Beck Endowment for Elementary Education at GW in honor of her capable successor. During the fund's first 10 years, various contributions allowed the fund to exceed $100,000 in value. The sources of these gifts included a planned gift by Beck's father-in-law, Paul Beck, and a year-long 10th anniversary celebration campaign, enabling the endowment to meet its goal.

In 2008, Beck's close family friend, Bruce LaVal, also designated a generous portion of his revocable living trust to benefit the Beck Endowment. "Sylven is an incredible person and does outstanding work at GW," says LaVal. "We all have people who inspire us and it's wonderful to be able to honor them and sustain their legacy through philanthropy."

Of course, Beck has had influences of her own that have shaped her life and career. One came in 1977 as she was applying to doctoral programs in the Washington area. She had a substantial number of transfer credits, but found that most schools were unwilling to accept all of them. That is, until she found a determined ally in GW Professor John Boswell.

"He said: ‘We're going to do this. The worst they can say is no, and if that happens we'll just think of something else,'" Beck recalls. In the end, GSEHD accepted every credit and Beck has been teaching at George Washington ever since.

Beck's life and career was again dramatically affected, 20 years later, on Sept. 11, 2001. She remembers standing in her kitchen as she watched the South Tower of the World Trade Center fall, knowing her brother was on the 104th floor.

"Losing my brother has changed the way I live. It's changed the way I treat people," Beck says. "You become more introspective, even retrospective. You become more forgiving."

Consequently, her approach to teaching is newly refined. Ever mindful to interlock life's lessons with her curricula, she shares her story of loss with her students, who comfort and cry with her. She encourages them to take the time to reflect, not only on the blessings of loved ones, but on the impact of their own lives.

"Over the last 10 years, I've realized it's not about the content," she says. "Yes, you've got to teach these aspiring teachers how to teach children science and math and how to read. But first and foremost, they have to teach their children to be kind to one another, to take care of one another. This is the most important lesson I could leave with my students."

Beck's lessons of kindness permeate her life. A member of the GW Heritage Society, she donates to the university for the same reason she teaches: because one person can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others.

Her strategy may not be typical in its approach, but it's exponential in its effect. She continues to teach from the heart and the Beck Endowment continues to provide much needed scholarship funds to deserving students. And the cycle of kindness endures.

"Everyone in this life can impact others for good," Beck says. "To what degree, is a decision entirely up to us."

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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to the George Washington University a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I give to the George Washington University, a nonprofit corporation currently located at 1922 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20052, or its successor thereto, ______________ [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to GW or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

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You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to GW as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to GW as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

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