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Charitable giving through your estate plan: How to do it right

Charitable giving is an important - and commendable - estate planning goal for many Americans. Perhaps you've donated your time volunteering with a humane society or animal rescue operation, and you want to expand that support. Maybe you belong to a church, synagogue or other religious institution that has played a central role in your life. Or perhaps you're passionate about helping local arts flourish.

By supporting the organizations that reflect your interests and values, you can make a difference that will endure far beyond your lifetime.

Another key benefit of charitable giving

Leaving a meaningful legacy isn't the only benefit of charitable giving. When done strategically, it also provides valuable tax advantages, including:

  • Reduced estate taxes
  • Income tax deductions
  • Capital gains tax avoidance

Depending on how you structure your giving, you and your loved ones could benefit from these advantages now or down the road.

So how do you do it?

You don't necessarily have to postpone your giving until after your lifetime. There are numerous ways to incorporate charitable giving - whether now or in the future - into your estate plan. For example:

  • Through a will, you can make a charitable bequest in a specified dollar amount or percentage of the estate. You can also designate whatever is left over after your heirs receive their share.
  • Through a charitable remainder trust, you and your heirs can benefit from the trust assets during your lifetimes. After the set term of the trust is up, the remaining assets will go to the charitable purposes you specify.
  • A charitable lead trust is essentially the reverse: You can use trust assets to benefit a charitable cause for a set period of time. Whatever amount is left over will go to your heirs.

These are just a few of the tools you can use to maximize your giving. You may also wish to consider direct gifts, endowments, donor-advised funds, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, real estate and countless other ways to benefit the causes you care about.

Sorting through the options

Charitable giving can be as simple or complicated as you'd like to make it. Your strategy may have ramifications not only for the future, but also for your life now. By thinking through your options with the help of an estate planning attorney, you can ensure that your plan reflects your unique goals and priorities - a win-win for yourself, your loved ones and the organizations you support.

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