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Not everyone leaves their wealth to their children

This is the year that you finally sit down with an attorney and develop your estate plan. You've worked hard your entire adult life and have a fair amount to show for it. Should you leave your assets to your children and grandchildren when you die or to charitable organizations whose work you support?

There's no right answer. However, the practice of leaving everything to family is no longer as common as it used to be. In a survey of baby boomers by the Insured Retirement Institute, less than half (46 percent) said that leaving money to loved ones was important. That's down from two-thirds of people who believed that in the past.

Attitudes about inheritances have shifted among some people in younger generations as well. CNN host Anderson Cooper, the son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt (who will be 95 next month), says, "I don't believe in inheriting money. I think it's an initiative sucker..." Of course, he's doing fine on his own. Some people who don't have high-paying jobs may feel differently about benefiting from their parents' wealth.

Some people are determined to enjoy the money they've accumulated by spending it on themselves rather than leaving it to family or anyone else. However, there's no way to predict what the future holds. Likely, you'll die with some money and/or property. Estate planning is essential if you want to have a say in what happens to it and minimize the amount that the government takes.

One financial adviser notes that even when people come to her who have no children and no causes they feel strongly about, with a few questions, she can help them see that there are potential beneficiaries -- like a local animal shelter or library -- that they've been associated with over the years and that can put their money to good use.

No matter how large or small your estate, you can use your estate plan to craft your legacy. Whether you leave any of your wealth to your family, where would you like your assets to have an impact? Do you want to support your alma mater, an organization that does research to help end a disease that's impacted you or your family or a nonprofit group that does work in your community? An experienced attorney can help you craft an estate plan that reflects your wishes.

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