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Charitable Giving

Today more than ever, charitable institutions stand to benefit as the first wave of the baby boomers reach the stage where they're able to make significant charitable gifts. If you're like many Americans, you too may have considered donating to charity. And though writing a check at year-end is one of the most common ways to give to charity, planned giving may be even more effective.

What is planned giving?

Planned giving is the process of thinking strategically about charitable giving to maximize the personal, financial, and tax benefits of your gifts. For example, you may need to receive income in exchange for the assets you donate, or you may want to be involved in deciding how your gift is spent--things that typically can't be done with standard checkbook giving.

Questions to consider

To help you start thinking about your charitable plan, consider these questions:

  • Which charities do you want to benefit?
  • What kind of property do you want to donate (e.g., cash, stocks, real estate, life insurance)?
  • Do you want the gift to take effect during your life or at your death?
  • Do you want to retain an interest in the property you donate?
  • Do you want to be involved in deciding how your gift is spent?

Gifting strategies

Planned giving is the process of thinking strategically about charitable giving to maximize the personal, financial, and tax benefits of your gifts. 

There are many ways to donate to charity, from a simple outright cash gift to a complex trust arrangement. Each option has strengths and tradeoffs, so it's a good idea to consult an experienced financial professional to see which strategy is best for you. Here are some common options:

Outright gift--An outright gift is an immediate gift for the charity's benefit only. It can be made during your life or at your death via your will or other estate planning document. Examples of property you can gift are cash, securities, real estate, life insurance proceeds, art, collectibles, or other property.

Charitable trust--A charitable trust lets you split a gift between a charitable and a noncharitable beneficiary, allowing you to integrate financial needs with philanthropic desires. The two main types are a charitable remainder trust and a charitable lead trust. A typical charitable remainder trust provides fixed income for one or two persons for life. At the end of the trust term, assets remaining in the trust pass to the charity. This can be an attractive strategy for older individuals who seek steady income. There are different variations of the charitable remainder trust, depending on how the income stream is calculated. With a charitable lead trust, the order is reversed; the charity gets the first, or lead interest, and the noncharitable beneficiary receives the remainder interest at the end of the trust term.

Charitable gift annuity--A charitable gift annuity also provides fixed income for one or two persons for life. But it's easier to establish than a charitable remainder trust because it doesn't require a formal trust document.

Private foundation--A private foundation is a separate legal entity you create that makes grants to public charities. You and your family members, with the help of professional advisors, run the foundation--you determine how assets are invested and how grants are made. But in doing so, you're obliged to follow the many rules and regulations governing private foundations.

Donor-advised fund--Similar to, but less burdensome than, a private foundation, a donor-advised fund is an account held within a charity to which you can transfer assets. You can then advise, but not direct, how your assets will be invested and how grants will be made.

Tax benefits

Charitable giving can provide you with great personal satisfaction, but let's face it--the tax benefits are valuable too. Your gift can result in a substantial income tax deduction in the year you make the donation, and it may also reduce capital gains and estate taxes.

To enjoy these tax benefits, the charity must be a qualified public charity. Be careful--not all tax-exempt charities are qualified charities for tax purposes. To verify a charity's status, check IRS Publication 78, or visit http://www.irs.gov/.