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Legacies gaining in popularity in estate plans

Rather than leave an inheritance to a family member or friend, many residents of the Miami area have taken a different path to distribute estate assets.

Instead, some have opted to give their money to benefit their favorite charities or passions. Most popular are the organizations that work with children and animals.

It's called leaving a legacy, and nationwide, the percentage of those wills that left a legacy rose 19 percent from one year to the next to reach almost $23 billion in 2010, according to a nonprofit that closely watches charities. The baby boomer generation has become especially active in creating legacies, with 75 percent of those polled in a recent survey stating that passing down family values was more important than leaving behind money.

Creating a legacy has become especially popular among people who do not have children, said one woman who works for a South Florida animal agency. A recent bequest from a childless woman left $5,000 to the agency to pay for medicine and food for animals in shelters. On a larger scale, another woman recently left $1 million to a different group for the support of abused or abandoned cats and dogs in the area.

One man, a real estate agent in Fort Lauderdale, said he and his siblings know they will not receive an inheritance when their parents pass on. Instead, their money will go to maintain a farm the parents bought in the state to shelter and provide for abused and neglected horses. Upon their death, the farm will remain open as a nonprofit organization. The man and his siblings are very supportive of their decision, he said.

Others in the area also have chosen to support education, the arts or nonprofit foundations.

If this is the path people want to take, experts said they must make a will that spells out their wishes for their money, especially if they have no close relatives. If people do not leave a will, Florida law requires courts to look for any relatives, even relatives who did not know the deceased well. Making a will ensures the wishes can be followed, experts said.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "More investing in legacies rather than leaving inheritances," Donna Gehrke-White, May 28, 2012

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