Your Finance: Tips for individuals leaving assets after they die

When it comes to charitable planning, financial advisers When it comes to charitable planning, financial advisers say it is not about how old you are but how rich. If you have $100,000 or more, you do not want to die without a will or estate plan and leave it to a court-appointed executor to decide what happens to the assets you leave behind, says John Pettee, a trust, tax and estate specialist with Charles Schwab's private client division. Photo Credit: iStock

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For many single or childless individuals, the question of how to distribute their worldly wealth after they die is wide open and complicated. A charity? Alma mater? Distant nieces and nephews? A cat?

And who will take care of making sure dying wishes are fulfilled?

This dilemma faces not just the 17 million unmarried Americans over 65 who are retired or putting their ducks in a row for retirement. Charitable foundations and financial advisers report that an increasing number of young people are facing these decisions before they are married or have children.

That is especially true for tech entrepreneurs who, for example, come into a large amount of money from stock options or the sale of a startup business.

Here are some tips:

When to plan: When it comes to charitable planning, financial advisers say it is not about how old you are but how rich. If you have $100,000 or more, you do not want to die without a will or estate plan and leave it to a court-appointed executor to decide what happens to the assets you leave behind, says John Pettee, a trust, tax and estate specialist with Charles Schwab's private client division.

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Medical choices: You also have to consider your health care directives and who should manage your affairs should you become incapacitated in an accident or because of illness. A person needs a lineup of contingency names to put on legal forms, and all of those people need to be aware of your desires for medical intervention.

Donor-advised funds: What generally keeps people -- with children or without -- from estate planning is that they do not want to face their mortality.

One route to make the process easier is a donor-advised fund, offered by brokerage firms such as Fidelity, Vanguard and Schwab and charitable foundations. These act like mutual funds designated for charitable giving and allow an individual to make a one-time or ongoing contribution through the institution, alleviating many fees and paperwork requirements.

Donors can designate the funds to be distributed right away or can direct grants later. And the tax benefits accrue when donations are made, not when the money is granted to charities.

Be flexible about gifts: People now give just about anything they can assign a monetary value to, from unsecured stock options to art and even bitcoins. That helps young tech workers because they can give away some of what they have today, keeping with the principles of the Giving Pledge made by some of the world's wealthiest people, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

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