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Building a Legacy
Gale McCreary Wilson-Steele, '74, has devoted her life to building things. As a licensed contractor, she built homes. As an entrepreneur, she created a successful Internet company. As a parent, she raised four children.
However, when it came to managing her planned gift at Stanford, Wilson-Steele decided to let others do the heavy lifting. She appointed Stanford as trustee of her charitable remainder unitrust. It was also important to her that the university be able to use the funds to meet its greatest needs when the trust matures. That is why she made her planned gift unrestricted.
"I trust that Stanford’s experts know the best way to direct the money," she explains.
From Entrepreneur to Benefactor
Wilson-Steele's charitable journey had an unusual start. After graduating from Stanford as a biology major, she became a licensed contractor, learned computer-aided design, and launched a gourmet food website. Then, together with a Stanford alumnus angel investor, she created Medseek, a company that builds software to help hospitals connect with patients and doctors.
At first, she worked long hours for uncertain returns. "I paid my bills off my credit card," she recalls.
It took 16 years, but finally Wilson-Steele was able to think about how to use her assets to make a charitable gift. She believes in "tithing"—giving away a percentage of one's earnings—and was interested in supporting areas as diverse as medicine, international relations, the environment, and education.
"I called Stanford, because it felt like one-stop shopping," she explains.
Choosing the Right Gift
Wilson-Steele worked with her advisors and Stanford's Office of Planned Giving to choose the gift that would best meet her needs. Although most people fund charitable remainder unitrusts with cash or publicly traded securities, Wilson-Steele's gift was more unusual because she used 10 percent of her company shares to create a charitable remainder unitrust.
She was glad to learn that the university could become the trustee of her trust—she says she has confidence in Stanford’s expertise in managing assets.
After the stock was sold, Stanford as trustee invested the proceeds with its endowment. Now Wilson-Steele receives income from the trust for her lifetime: annual payments in the amount of 5 percent of the principal (the exact amount fluctuates depending on the trust's value at the beginning of each year).
There were other upsides to the unitrust for her and her family. Wilson-Steele designated her husband, Gregory Steele, as her successor beneficiary, so that he will receive income if she passes away first. She also was happy to take a charitable income tax deduction for her gift, which helped reduce her income taxes.
“It’s such a win all the way around,” she says.
Although many planned gifts are earmarked for a specific use, Wilson-Steele consciously decided not to do that. She had learned how valuable a flexible gift can be for university leadership. That's why she created an unrestricted gift that Stanford can direct toward its greatest needs when the trust matures. (See the explanation of restricted and unrestricted gifts below.)
Enjoying the Benefits
Since selling her company, Wilson-Steele has been able to devote more time to traveling, visiting her four grandchildren, and riding her three horses. She recently trekked Peru's Inca Trail. In California, she enjoys exploring the trails around her homes in Felton and Solvang and making wine from her Syrah vineyard.
The payout that she receives from the charitable remainder unitrust comes in handy these days.
"It's a very nice additional income stream right now," she says.
Wilson-Steele also has enjoyed being part of Stanford's Founding Grant Society. As a member of this group, which recognizes those who have chosen to make a bequest or planned gift to support Stanford, she has been invited to special events on campus, where she has met many other benefactors.
"It's opened up a whole new social outlet."
This past year, Wilson-Steele has taken some time to talk with fellow alums by serving as the planned gift chair for her 40th reunion. "I enjoy connecting with my classmates and learning what they’ve been doing for the past decades." She also shares with them the benefits of a planned gift.
The Face of Stanford's Future
There’s something else that inspires Wilson-Steele to give back: the next generation of Stanford alumni. She is getting to know several of them through her son, Luke Wilson, '16, a computer science major. His friends are exactly the kind of young people she hopes to encourage with her giving.
"Each of these students is trying to impact the world in a positive way," she says. "Stanford nurtures and nourishes their desire to benefit humankind."
Building a better future—that is at the heart of the university that Wilson-Steele is proud to support with her planned gift.
Your Planned Gift: Unrestricted or Restricted?
When considering making a planned gift to Stanford, you have several choices. One choice is whether to designate your gift as unrestricted or restricted.
An unrestricted planned gift, like the one made by Gale Wilson-Steele, allows Stanford to use the funds, once available, to support the areas of greatest need. Unrestricted gifts are extremely valuable because of their flexibility: Stanford’s leadership determines how to use the assets to support the objects and purposes of the university. In a given year, this could range from scholarships to research initiatives to earthquake preparedness.
A restricted planned gift allows you to support one or more areas that are meaningful to you. For example, you may wish to support undergraduate financial aid, graduate fellowships, or a specific area of research.
For both unrestricted and restricted planned gifts, Stanford’s Office of Planned Giving would be happy to provide language for your estate plans.