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'Spiritual' estate planning increasing in South Florida

Estate planning uses legal instruments such as wills and trusts to distribute assets among a testator's heirs. Spiritual estate planning uses a testator's financial values to determine the assets that each decedent receives from a will or trust.

Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that monitors giving, reports charitable bequests are on the rise. In the most recent 12 month period tracked, the increase was tagged at 19 percent. Spiritual estate planning is also becoming more popular as baby boomers reach retirement age, according to one estate-planning attorney in South Florida. She adds that this type of financial planning involves more than just leaving money to charity.

Spiritual planning requires the testator to make specific decisions about which family members will receive what assets. This task can become more complex with blended families that have multiple marriages and stepchildren. The attorney observes, for example, that assets going only to the testator's biological children could cause the step-children to feel left out, creating animosity.

Some testators may also want heirs who are well off to receive a smaller share of the estate. Legal experts say in those circumstances, having a conversation with the heirs to explain reasoning should be part of the planning process. Again, the reason is to avoid undue tensions.

Some testators believe in frugality and wish to prevent their heirs from squandering the estate. A trust can specify that the heirs may only spend money from the estate under certain circumstances. A trust can also protect assets from an ex-spouse or creditors.

In all cases, the ideal is to incorporate open conversation with the family about all significant issues as part of the planning process. That way the testator can reinforce the values they cherish and minimize the chances of family friction.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "'Spiritual' estate planning on rise," Donna Gehrke-White, Nov. 11, 2012

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