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Estate planning challenges for older clients without children

The old saying tells us that we should put "family first." What about older New York residents without any children, grandchildren or stepchildren? For those individuals, estate planning can go from simple to complex in a jiffy. Instead of handing down all of their treasured assets to their natural heirs -- their kids -- they must use creative strategies to distribute their holdings. Experts say that the situation is becoming far more common as smaller families and childless couples are increasing in prevalence. Older individuals without such obvious heirs should consider some specific questions before they finalize their estate plan.

Personal philosophy can play into asset distribution planning. Many people choose to honor the organizations they support by leaving assets to those charitable groups or educational institutions. Planned gifts to churches and charities can make sense for older people who do not know how to otherwise distribute their holdings.

Experts say it makes sense to focus on just a few charities instead of attempting to spread your money too thin. Try to develop relationships with the organizations, and determine whether you think those groups would manage your assets responsibly once they were donated. The groups should reflect your personal values and preferences while acting in a professional manner.

No matter what your personal financial or family situation looks like, you should have a complete set of estate planning documents to help relatives and beneficiaries adhere to your wishes. Whether you intend to leave most of your estate to a niece or nephew -- or you have a charitable organization in mind -- the recipient will benefit from a clear estate plan. Using trusts and other tools can help prevent family disputes and allow you to distribute your holdings according to your preferences and values.

Source: The New York Times, "In Estate Planning, Family Isn’t Always First" Caitlin Kelly, May. 02, 2014

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