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Using your estate plan to leave a legacy

Increasingly, estate planning isn't just about leaving money, property and other assets to family members and other loved ones. For many Americans, it's become a way to leave a legacy -- to use the fruits of your success to help organizations that are doing work you value or that have meant something in your life.

The fact that more people are choosing not to have children is also a factor in the shift in estate planning toward philanthropy. So may be the fact that there are all too many public examples (and many that we all know personally) of people who were left considerable wealth by their families and then do little of value in their own lives -- or worse, use the money for self-destructive behavior.

One estate planning attorney notes that choosing to use all or part of your estate for philanthropic purposes requires some soul-searching, with questions like "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?"

Many people leave gifts to their alma mater, to recovery and other organizations that have helped them get their life back or track and to non-profit organizations with which they've been involved for many years.

If you're leaving money to other organizations with which you may be less familiar, but whom you've been making donations over the years, it's important to do your homework before bequeathing them a large sum of money. Find out what percentage of their donations goes toward the work that is their reported mission. Perhaps schedule a visit and talk with the people who run the organization. There are also groups like Charity Watch and Charity Navigator that rate charities and publish their findings.

Your Maryland estate planning attorney can help you include the groups and organizations on which you want to leave your mark in your estate plan.

Source: New York Times, "In Estate Planning, Family Isn’t Always First," Caitlin Kelly, accessed April 07, 2017

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