WHETHER it's treasured pearl earrings or a vintage camera, a house or what's left of your life savings, deciding who should inherit your worldly goods means making sometimes wrenching choices. For older people without children, stepchildren or grandchildren, the decision can be even more complex.
The need to create a trust or focus on planned giving is a generational shift, says
''Our family didn't think of anything but leaving everything to us. The concept of estate planning didn't exist in my parents' lives,'' said
Today, with smaller families and more women choosing not to have children, ''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,'' he said.
''This situation is more and more prevalent,'' agrees
''Many people come to us to make a donation as a life stage decision,''
The decision-making process should begin with some philosophical questions, said
''Who 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?'' she said.
''We're splitting our estate. Fifty percent will go to our grandniece, with a bit to my sisters if they need it, and the other 50 percent will go to five or six charities,'' says Ms. Bennett-Uffelman, who is now 64. These include Planned Parenthood and the
She suggests paying close attention to a few charities, developing relationships with them and watching how they handle their funds over a number of years and your donations before making any final decisions. ''What sort of communications do they send you? If you increase your gift, how do they handle that?''
But his choice is also deeply personal: ''It saved my life.'' A former alcoholic, he spent 28 days there in 1983 and 1984. In gratitude, he and his wife created the general scholarship fund, without their names on it. ''We know what we've done, and that's important,'' he says.
Even those who do have children may decide to leave their estate to others.
For some gay couples without children, creating a legacy is essential, both emotionally and practically.
''As a gay man, we were just wired for philanthropy because that's what would save us and our friends' lives,'' says
They wrote a will 13 years ago, prompted by an overseas trip, and updated it when then they married three years ago. ''We've added some organizations and taken some away,'' he says. ''We're very generous people when we're alive and we want to have a more impactful gift when we don't need it any longer.''
In addition to a favorite charity, religious institution or alma mater, bequests can also include neighbors, colleagues, former students, friends and relatives. ''I call them 'families of affinity,' '' says Ms. Miranda, the lawyer. ''They might be your best friend's children or your best friend at work. The people who are good to you in your life might be your friends, not your family.''
''I'm planning on leaving most of my estate to my nephew, who is currently 15,'' says
''Since I own a condo, I need to make a will, but haven't yet,'' says Ms. Lesley, who is a programmer creating web-based software. ''I may leave a smallish portion to my longtime roommate, who is disabled and has nothing but his monthly disability check and no one else in his life. It's not a romantic relationship, but he's lived here for about 10 years. I also have to figure out what to do about my cat. And I have to think about my things: beads to a friend who is a crafter as well; books to my best friend; ceramics to him as well; electronics to my brother, my nephew's father.''
''I should have a brief will dealing with my assets and not let the details get in the way,'' she adds. ''But I haven't done it yet, because of a combination of inertia and denial, I guess. I suppose my brother is my next of kin, but I should formalize things.''
Many Americans do not have a will, and postpone creating one, according to the Health and Retirement Study, a biennial survey of 26,000 people over the age of 50 supported by the
Making a will requires planning, says Ms. Miranda, including choosing an executor, ideally someone who really understands the responsibility involved in that role. ''Find someone who is diligent. It's a pain of a job. It's such a record-keeping nightmare,'' she says. One effective way to make that job easier is to create, and keep updating, an easily accessible document of all your passwords, especially for bank accounts.
However you decide to donate your assets, ''it's about legacy,'' says
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