When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Enjoy unlimited access to quality journalism.

Limited time offer

Get your 30-day free trial!
Who's going to inherit the surf board?
Who's going to inherit the surf board?
Anna Lietti

GENEVA – Marie-Gisèle Sandoz lives by herself, and has no children or siblings.

When the retiree decided it was time to make a will, it didn't take long to decide who would be the benificiaries: three-quarters of her assets will go to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. "Ecology has always been an interest of mine and I like the idea of doing something for the environment even after I’m gone," she explained. "They do good work and they’re less aggressive than Greenpeace."

The WWF will thus be the beneficiary of Sandoz’s small apartment in the Zürcher Oberland in northern Switzerland, where the former executive secretary from Neuchâtel has chosen to spend her retirement.

But had she had any doubts about which charity to choose, Sandoz could have gone to www.MyHappyEnd.org -- a platform where 18 NGOs describe what they do and provide thousands of useful tips to future "donors from beyond," as they were affectionately dubbed by Vincent Maunoury, responsible for legacies at Terre des Hommes (a Swiss children’s rights charity).

Philanthropists such as Sandoz are still relatively rare. Out of the $32 billion inherited every year in Switzerland, for example, only 1 to 1.5% goes to charity.

"The problem," as Sandoz puts it, "is that we don’t like to talk about death. Which means that most people aren’t prepared when the time comes..." Organizations have to find a way of making themselves known without looking like macabre vultures.

Communication is the key. MyHappyEnd has recently launched an online competition for the best artistic homage to benefactors. Who are these benefactors? A rich woman from Zurich, for instance, bequeathed more than $3 million to the Salvation Army in 2010.

Unhappy families

People without close relatives are usually more likely to put donations to charities into their wills, according to Samy Darwish, MyHappyEnd president. He handles about 20 such cases per year. At Terre des hommes, Vincent Maunoury tries to describe the typical donor: a woman, aged 50 to 60, sometimes very rich, although not necessarily. And at peace with their family? This is a sensitive subject.

"In seven years, I've never seen anyone leaving money or property to an NGO just to spite their family," assures Darwish. Still, even when there are no direct relatives, leaving everything to charities almost always means that a distant cousin ends up denied his inheritance. And for people who do have children, the gesture plainly says, "You shall have what you are legally entitled to, but nothing more."

"Our donors’ decisions do not always please families," admits Maunoury, who handles 60 cases per year for Terre des Hommes -- 5 to 10 % of which prove "problematic." The main source of disputes comes when people’s wills are "unclear," which is why charities highly recommend that people use a notary when making their wills.

Late changes to a will, for instance, usually spell trouble, says Maunoury. "Sometimes families accuse us of forcing people’s hands, although we are only respecting the last wishes of a person who acts out of conviction."

An increasing number of people are starting to divide their assets among several charities. Vincent Maunoury recalls the recent example of a widow in Lausanne whose will included 60 heirs, 52 of which were NGOs.

Marie-Gisèle Sandoz made things easier for everyone by sticking to the WWF. She even told her second cousins, with whom she is on excellent terms. "I wrote them a letter and told them about giving my money to ‘a charity.’ Maybe I should have been more specific... Well, I'll show them this article!"

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Green

Fading Flavor: Production Of Saffron Declines Sharply

Saffron is well-known for its flavor and its expense. But in Kashmir, one of the flew places it grows, cultivation has fallen dramatically thanks for climate change, industry, and farming methods.

Photo of women harvesting saffron in Kashmir

Harvesting of Saffron in Kashmir

Mubashir Naik

In northern India along the bustling Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Pampore — known as the saffron town of Kashmir —people are busy picking up saffron flowers to fill their wicker baskets.

During the autumn season, this is a common sight in the Valley as saffron harvesting is celebrated like a festival in Kashmir. The crop is harvested once a year from October 21 to mid-November.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest

InterNations