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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!"

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Society

What Jesus Really Said: Fixing The Mistranslations That Have Shaped Christianity

Jesus spoke Aramaic, but the Bible has been translated from Greek. Many mistaken translations of the Gospels have skewed the development of Christianity — and the course of history. It's time to let the Bible be retranslated to let its true message be known.

Biblical errors?

Franz Alt

BERLIN — Jesus spoke Aramaic. It was his mother tongue and 2,000 years ago it was the main language throughout the Middle East. The New Testament, however, is translated from Greek into all the languages of the world. Aramaic expert and theologian Günther Schwarz (who died in 2009) was dissatisfied with the classical translation and studied Aramaic every day for 50 years in order to better understand Jesus in his native language. In doing so, he came to the realization that about half of all Jesus' words in the gospels were mistranslated or even deliberately falsified.

His shocking conclusion: “What Christians believe, Jesus did not teach! And what Jesus taught — the Christians do not know.” The theologian has written 20 books and around 100 scientific articles about Jesus and Aramaic. He sent his findings to all German-speaking bishops. Response: zero.

So, as a journalist, I want to use my Jesus books to educate people about Günther Schwarz's findings.

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