In 1986, Buffett's attitude was revolutionary. But times have changed. Bill and Melinda Gates have also said they plan to leave their vast fortune to charity and not their children. And both Gates and Buffett are asking the nation's billionaires to join them by donating at least half their fortunes to charity.

The sentiment is already trickling down. Estate planning experts interviewed for this article say they have seen a growing number of their wealthy clients handing a chunk of their wealth over to charity rather than give it to their kids-though most are waiting until they die to part with it. Chris Murray, president of Murray Financial Group Inc. in Frederick, Md., says since the economic downturn, he's seen more clients increase their philanthropic giving while reducing the amount of money they plan to hand down to their kids.

"I can't put my finger on why-is it because of the recession and them just knowing there are a lot of people out there today in dire need? But I know I'm now seeing more of it," he says. "I hear comments like, 'I made it on my own. I didn't have a lot of money left to me,' or 'I put myself through college. I bought my first home on my own.' It's almost like they've become nostalgic, and are remembering in these difficult times that it's character building."

Indeed, a recent study by U.S. Trust found that less than half of wealthy parents nationwide thought it was important to leave their money to their children. Many of those surveyed were baby boomers who had made their own fortunes.

The survey, of 457 affluent individuals with $3 million or more in investable assets, found that wealthy Americans worked hard for their money and would rather travel and focus on their relationships-which suffered because they had to work so hard-than leave an inheritance to their children. They cite a variety of reasons, from not believing their children will be able to handle an inheritance (34%) to fearing their children will become lazy (24%). Some 20% believe their children would make poor decisions, another 20% believe their kids would squander the money, and 13% believe their children would be taken advantage of by outsiders.

When Joseph Flom, a partner at Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, died this past February, for instance, he left $50 million of his estate to the Flom Family Foundation rather than to his children. He left another $2 million to Harvard Law School and $1 million to the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, which helps law students interested in public interest work. Flom's son, Jason, reportedly said that from the time they were kids, his father told them he planned to give his money to charity and that they should all go out and make their own.

Kristin Abati, a partner in the Wealth Management Group at Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP in Boston, says many of her clients feel that way. Most of them are entrepreneurs who built up a company, sold it, and are now well off, and they fear if they just give their fortunes to their children, the kids will have no drive. Abati says those type of clients typically have a set amount they want to leave to their children, like $5 million, and the rest they leave to charity, though they'll put the money into a family foundation with the hope that the children will run it, thus instilling in them a sense of giving.

Some do a variation of that theme. Abati says she has one client who has more than $30 million in investable assets and is going to put all of that money into a charitable lead annuity trust. For 20 years, charities will receive the income from the trust while her children receive nothing. At the end of the 20 years, her children receive the balance. While the charities are likely to be happy with the client's decision, her children probably are not, Abati says.

"Her kids are almost certainly going to be disappointed," Abati says. ""They have other assets. They're not going to want for anything. But there's an emotional component to thinking your parents have disinherited you."

Some parents don't care about how their children feel. They believe it's their money, and they have a right to choose what to do with it. And then others feel deeply about how their children feel. The key is for the parents to keep the children informed of their decisions, Abati says.

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