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If you've had the good fortune of making zillions from your mutual fund investments, figuring out what to do with all that moola--- once you've fulfilled all of your investment goals like sending the kids to college, funding your retirement or buying that second home---can be a daunting task. Options seem to run the gambit from dying broke to leaving your heirs with bundles with a host of other options in between. While the first may sound easy enough to accomplish, it's figuring out how to do the later (leave an estate) where most folks get stuck.

But not to worry, insights from a recent study on legacy planning conducted by the AARP Investment Program from Scudder, and, a new estate planning booklet from Vanguard can help. First, the results from the AARP/Scudder survey.

According to that survey, the entire subject of inheritance seems to stir up all sorts of feelings and emotions from tension, to guilt to unrealistic expectations for nearly everyone involved.

"The survey results underscore that lack of knowledge and preparation, combined with the fact that money and death remain taboo conversations topics that can lead to sibling squabbles, unnecessary legal expenses, unpleasant surprises and missed opportunities, " says Lin Coughlin, chairperson for the AARP Investment Program from Scudder.

Although that might not be news to anyone who's ever lived through the reading of a will and come up empty-handed, AARP's survey points out the very nature of our humanness---warts and all. For example, most Americans between the ages of 50 and 53 don't hope to get an inheritance they expect to receive one. And, they've got a pretty good idea of what they'd like it to be as well as what they'll do with it: Seventy-nine percent figure it will come in the form of money; 82 percent expect real estate; and 86 percent think that the inheritance will be a source of their retirement income.

The survey also showed that most Americans place a great deal of importance in passing things on---like family heirlooms, the family home, real estate or investments. The problem is, many who intend on leaving legacies don't ever discuss who-gets-what with their heirs. Consequently, one in five older Americans, and a majority of the younger 50-plus-ers, say that an inheritance, or lack of one, has created tensions or hard feelings between family members.

Sound familiar? To side-step any of these issues, the pros say hone-up on your communication skills and learn as much as you can about legacy planning. The AARP Investment Program from Scudder has established the Legacy Service (800-253-2277), to help you review and organize a transfer of assets.

Vanguard has taken a different tack. They've created a 22-page booklet titled, Estate Planning Basics. It's free when requested by calling 800-869-4198.

In this booklet you'll learn things like what an estate plan is, the dangers of not creating one, how things like wills and trusts can be used to manage an estate, ways to establish an estate plan and how taxes can impact estates.

If you thought estate planning was only for the wealthy, think again. According to the booklet, an estate plan is simply the legal and financial arrangements that you make for the management and distribution of your property after your death. Some of the things that it can include are a will, a personal trust, a health-care power of attorney, a power of attorney, a living will, and letter of instruction.

Not having an estate plan isn't the end of the world but it could mean that those you'd intended to leave an inheritance to might not ever receive it. Or worse yet, that your estate gets smacked with unnecessary taxes.

Jack Broad, principal of Vanguard's Asset Management and Trust Services, said that people often underestimate the impact that taxes can have on their estates. " As a result, beneficiaries sometimes receive far less than their benefactors intended," he says.

In the final analysis, if accumulating wealth to pass on to your heirs and/or charities has been one of your long-term goals, don't let the grim reaper have the last word. Estate plan today.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

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