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'Spiritual' estate planning ensures values are passed with money

'Spiritual' estate planning is becoming a hot topic for baby boomers who want to make sure their values are passed down with their money, financial planners say.

November 23, 2012|By Donna Gehrke-White

"Spiritual" estate planning is becoming a hot topic for baby boomers who want to make sure their values are passed down along with their money, financial planners say.

Bequests to charities are up 19% in a year, according to Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that monitors charities. But it goes beyond leaving money to a favorite group, said South Florida attorney Alice Reiter Feld.

"It's leaving money with a purpose," she said.

That extends into deciding how to give money, or not, to family members, Feld said.

Those drawing up an estate plan first have to decide who is included among their kin, in this age of blended families and second or third marriages, Feld said.

"With all the kinds of families these days, there's no simple answer," Feld said.

In setting up a will, parents also need to consider: "Have you passed on your financial values to kids?" Feld said she asks clients. "Sometimes, I have to send them home to think about it."

Some retirees who believe in frugality may decide to leave money in a trust to guarantee that free-spending children, or their spouses, don't squander it all, she said.

Putting money in a trust for surviving relatives can protect it from any creditors or even a former spouse, Feld said.

"It's more control beyond the grave," said Mari Adam, a financial planner who has seen more clients wanting to have a say how their kin spends their inheritance.

A growing number of parents also are deciding not to give equal amounts to their surviving children, financial planners say. Rather, some feel morally responsible to care for less well-off children, financial planner Ben Tobias said.

If one of their children is wealthy, for example, some parents may decide they need to give more of an inheritance to an adult son or daughter who has fewer assets or who has a special-needs child, Tobias said.

"For whatever reason, they are opposed to doing it equally," Tobias said.

Feld has seen the same trend, although she personally feels that children should be treated equally.

If mothers or fathers are going to leave more money to one child, then they need to communicate that before they pass away, she said.

Tobias agreed. It's a matter of keeping peace in the family, he said.

Parents especially "should sit down with a child who is going to be given less and explain the reasons," Tobias said.

"Otherwise real problems may develop," he said. "I've seen deep resentment develop."

Gehrke-White writes for the South Florida Sun Sentinel

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