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People are increasingly using estate plans to leave a legacy

It used to be that estate planning largely involved deciding how much money each of your children would get when you died, and who would inherit the good silverware and vacation home in La Jolla. For many Californians, it still is.

However, increasingly, it's about what kind of legacy you want to leave by giving all or part of your estate to organizations that are doing work you want to support. The head of the Association of Fundraising Professionals says that "the dynamic has changed pretty significantly for the generation of baby boomers. The option of doing something charitably significant with their estates is a change."

Some people divide their assets marked for philanthropy among several beneficiaries (from small community groups to large charitable organizations). Others choose to leave everything to one that has had a special meaning in their lives or that they've worked for and supported during their lives. Many leave money to their alma mater or their place of worship.

Even people who have children may choose to give the bulk of their inheritance to non-profit organizations if those children are grown and are comfortably supporting themselves or have received a significant amount of their parents' money already.

One estate planning attorney says that choosing to leave money to an organization requires careful thought. She says people should ask themselves questions like, "Whom do I owe my success to? What values do I want to reflect? How do I want to pay back the organizations I believe in?"

Of course, it's also essential to do some homework on the organizations you choose, if you haven't already. Note how they spend the money they get from donations and what their plans are for the future. Sites like CharityNavigator.org provide information on thousands of organizations. However, smaller groups (sometimes those most in need of money) aren't always listed there. Feel free to ask any organization you're considering donating to for documentation of where there money goes.

As with anything in your estate plan, you may choose to change the organizations to whom you want to leave money. Many people add or remove beneficiaries based on changing interests or perhaps a change in management or direction at the organization. With a well-drafted estate plan, it shouldn't be difficult for you and your attorney to make those changes.

Source: New York Times, "In Estate Planning, Family Isn’t Always First," Caitlin Kelly, accessed March 28, 2017

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