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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Charitable Giving Through Estate Planning

POSTED ON: June 3, 2016

For many, charitable giving is a way of life. Whether it is to support an organization that has touched your life in a meaningful way, a school or university that put you on the road to success, or simply a cause that you feel passionate about, charitable giving not only offers emotional benefits, but practical ones as well.

For motivated donors, one question is how much to give throughout your lifetime and what to leave as charitable gifts in your will or trust.

For those who are not concerned about the use of the assets during their lifetime – for care, or enjoyment – a charitable gift may be a regular occurrence. Others may choose to pass on assets after their death, in addition to, or sometimes in place of, passing on assets to family members.

The options for charitable giving within an estate plan are varied. One option is to make a gift at death through a will or trust, which would then reduce the amount of the donor’s estate, and thus any estate taxes that would need to be paid.

Gift Annuity

Another popular option is a charitable gift annuity. The basic structure of such an annuity is that the donor makes a lump sum gift to the charity, with the gift being used to purchase an annuity. The annuity would pay the donor a fixed percentage of the gift each year during their lifetime, with the remaining value of the annuity paid to the charity after the donor’s death. This offers a way for the donor to give away cash or assets while still receiving an income stream.

Gifting Assets

Also beneficial can be the gift of appreciated assets. For donors who own real estate or a stock portfolio with a large appreciation, the assets can be passed on to the charity so that the donor receives a tax deduction for the fair market value of the gift. The charity can then sell those assets without having to pay the capital gains tax on the appreciated value.

Yet another alternative is that the gift is left in a trust, giving a family member or a corporate trustee control over the trust. The terms of the trust would then direct how and when the assets of the trust are to be distributed to the charity or how the assets are used for charitable purposes.

Family Foundations

For larger donations or donations to be made over time, creating a family foundation is an option. A family foundation can be useful for those who wish to devote some part of their assets to charitable causes during their lives and have the work of the foundation and its charitable efforts continue after death.

Do Your Research

As with any donation, it is highly recommended to fully investigate the reputation of the charity you wish to make your contribution to. By doing a little research, you can be sure that the charity you wish to donate to uses their assets wisely, and that your donation is actually applied to charitable purposes instead of administration costs.

If you are inclined to make a charitable donation in your estate plan, it is always smart to discuss your intentions with a Massachusetts estate planning attorney to ensure your wishes are fully thought-out, appropriately documented, and to ensure that the gift is mutually beneficial from a tax perspective.

For more information on charitable giving in estate planning, contact Matthew Karr at The Heritage Law Center at 617.299.6976 or