Guest Column: Built a big estate without heirs?
December 22, 2015
It is a dilemma for many aging Aspenites: What to do with wealth accumulated over a lifetime?
Previous generations passed their estates onto their children. One of today's demographic oddities, however, is that often, no next generation exists for many middle-aged and older households.
If you die without a will or having named beneficiaries, your assets will pass to the closest relative; if no family member is found, the estate will fall into escheat, the state's coffers.
Can this really be what many wealthy people want to leave as legacies? Millions to a distant, perhaps never-known niece or nephew? Or the government taking it all?
This prospect is more common than one might imagine. I know of one local gentleman of an advanced age who is worth about $30 million. He has no wife, no kids, no close relatives that I'm aware of, and no clue what he wants to do with his fortune after he's gone. He doesn't even like to talk about it.
Suggestion: Give it away.
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The Aspen area has great needs, as well as great wealth. About 200 charities are based in Aspen and about 600 in the Roaring Fork Valley. Many are well-known and well-funded. Many, however, are small and chronically underfunded. The finances of charities and nonprofits that aid the working-class communities surrounding Aspen are particularly precarious, even though philanthropy is a major part of Aspen's culture.
Aspenites, like most Americans, also have been living longer, which has helped their wealth accumulation. And they have been having fewer children.
It's not just the super-rich going gray and heirless, either. Remember DINKs? It was an acronym affixed a decade or two ago to the many in the baby boomer generation with a double income and no kids, which was then a new phenomenon in the U.S.
And even those who have children often decide it's not the healthiest thing for them to receive a huge inheritance.
Well, with the average boomer now 61, the DINKs and their not-so-dinky estates — think double banker, physician or attorney households from wealth centers such as Wall Street or Hollywood — are spending part of their retirement here.
When you decide to leave money to a charity, you should do your homework; visit potential recipients, maybe hire a professional to look at their books.
Consider, too, talking with an investment professional about how such bequests could reduce inheritance taxes, perhaps a beneficial side effect of giving to charitable organizations.
Bottom line: Don't let your legacy just be that you were rich. Do something that passes on your values. Put your money where your heart (and your home) is.
Below are five lesser-known local charities that do tremendous "boots on the ground" work here in the Roaring Fork Valley and which could use a deep-pocketed benefactor. There are many more out there that need and deserve your support.
• Youth Zone (www.youthzone.com) — For nearly 40 years, this nonprofit has offered programs for parents and at-risk youth in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, El Jebel, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute. With a very low rate of recidivism, this program helps hundreds of kids learn positive, lasting lessons from their juvenile mistakes.
• The Advocate Safe House (www.advocatesafehouse.org) — This program offers the only safe house in the Roaring Fork Valley for survivors of domestic or sexual violence and their children. Serving hundreds of abuse victims, both adults and children, each year, Advocate Safe House offers both a physical refuge and programs to help victims begin rebuilding their lives.
• The Aspen Community Foundation's Preschool on Wheels Program (http://www.aspencommunityfoundation.org/cradle-to-career-2-2/) — As part of the Cradle to Career Initiative, this program delivers preschool learning activities via bus to 3- to 5-year-olds who would not otherwise receive these services, making them at risk for starting school unprepared, which can eventually lead to many other issues. The buses currently serve children in Rifle, Silt and New Castle whose families do not have access to pre-K programs.
• HaitiChildren (https://haitichildren.com) — Based in Carbondale, this is a Haitian-registered, nonprofit organization has been providing life-saving care, therapy and education for abandoned, orphaned and disabled children in Haiti for 22 years. HaitiChildren commits to providing education and permanent care until the child reaches age 18.
• The Aspen Valley Land Trust (www.AVLT.org) — This is the state's oldest land trust, founded in 1967. Through the efforts of the land trust, some of the most important and beautiful parcels of land in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys will never be developed, maintaining the open, rural nature and ranching heritage of Western Colorado.
Charles Bantis is president of First Western Trust, Aspen.