Julie Glissman, 26, of the Detroit area, has been given a huge boost by her grandfather. Throughout her life, he gave her stock in companies such as PepsiCo at Christmas and other holidays.
"I didn't want it at the time; I was 12 years old," she says. "But I'm so glad he did."
Years later, she sold her stock and used the money to buy a condo. Her grandfather also set up an education trust fund for her college expenses. Her grandfather, who worked his way up in an insurance brokerage company to become its president, died this month.
"My grandfather was a farm boy who had nothing growing up," Glissman says. "He milked cows and didn't have enough money to go to college."
Glissman's dad told her recently that when her grandmother passes away, she'll inherit a huge chunk.
"Our reaction is just overwhelming," Glissman says. "We had no idea how much money he had."
Charity begins at home
When Microsoft msft founder Bill Gates and his wife set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1994, it was an example of a family foundation "born large," says Sara Engelhardt, president of the Foundation Center, which backs the creation of charitable foundations.
During the next five years, the Gateses gave $30 billion to the fund. Then Gates' friend and fellow billionaire Buffett pledged another $30 billion. It's now the largest private foundation in the world.
The Gates Foundation "goes back to the days of the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations in the early part of the century when people had the kind of money that could endow a huge philanthropic foundation," Engelhardt says.
But the vast majority of family foundations in America don't have megamillion-dollar endowments; only 3,000 of the more than 60,000 foundations are big enough to have even one full-time staff member.
The wealthy and not-so-wealthy are increasingly setting up family foundations because "it's a non-Thanksgiving reason for families to get together," says Karen Fahrner of Bryn Mawr Trust Wealth Management in Philadelphia.
"You have these multigenerational meetings, and the discussion around the table is whether the money goes to help the environment or education or to individuals still suffering in New Orleans. It's a nice way to pull families together."
James Kehrer's father, a retired bank CEO, died in 1996, but the value of his investments kept growing.
"He made more money after he died than when he was alive," Kehrer says.
His mother has given money to her two sons through the years and set up trusts for her grandchildren. About 10 years ago, Kehrer says, the family realized they could create a non-profit foundation and "save as much in taxes as we put into the foundation."
Their foundation donates about $30,000 a year. It's given money for college scholarships in the family's hometown of Watertown, Wis., and to food banks in towns where the sons have lived. Now, they're buying a door for a local church.
"We get to give money away," says Kehrer, of Pullman, Wash. "It's a lot of fun to give money away."
It has been, he says, the best inheritance of all.
issues, including an interview with money expert Dave Ramsey
Watch ABC's Good Morning America Weekend and World News Saturday for more on inheritance issues, including an interview with money expert Dave Ramsey.