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Older Americans and the changing face of estate planning

Every two years, the National Institute on Aging and the University of Michigan join forces to conduct the Health and Retirement Study, a survey of 26,000-plus people over the age of 50 designed to collect information on everything from income, pension plans and assets to health insurance, disability and other important issues.

The study recently found that many survey respondents didn't have a will in place or had delayed its execution. While the rate of intestacy was higher among the younger survey respondents, the study also found that only 75 percent of survey respondents over the age of 75 had executed a will.

Why then are so many older Americans hesitant to set aside the time to draft a simple will or execute a more comprehensive estate plan?

Interestingly, some experts theorize that it may have something to do with the changing face of American society. Specifically, more people have opted not to have children and families have opted to have fewer children over the last several decades.

This generational shift, they argue, has served to make estate planning all the more complex, as it isn't necessarily a matter of just leaving everything to children anymore.

These same experts point out, however, that many older people in this situation have taken charge by electing to make charitable endowments a major component -- or even the sole component -- of their estate plan. Here, they may decide to leave assets to a favorite charity, alma mater or religious institution.

They do advise those considering this step to ask themselves important questions: What causes are important to me? What values do I want my assets to support? What organizations do I believe in?

As a next step, the experts advise people to interact with any charities or other institutions to which they plan to leave money before execution of an estate plan. Specifically, building relationships with officials, seeing how donations are handled and monitoring the overall progress.

Those who would like to learn more about executing an estate plan, regardless of their charitable intent, should consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to ensure that their wishes are accurately reflected and their interests fully protected.

Source: The New York Times, "In estate planning, family isn't always first," Caitlin Kelly, May 2, 2014

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