The will to give is strong in many people. As a society, we cherish the right to give to the charitable institutions of our choice. This will to give is what we refer to as "charitable intent."

We want to give. Often, the biggest hurdles to giving are that we do not know how to give or we assume that our family will suffer as a result of our giving. Our goal here in this article, is to show you a few ways to make such gifts in a tax-savvy manner.

Direct gifts

Direct gifts are gifts that are made to a charitable organization for their immediate use. The federal tax code provides for current income tax deductions for gifts to charities that have qualified under Section 501(c)(3) as a charitable organization.

The tax rules governing charitable giving are rather complex. Our explanation will be rather simplistic, but should give you a basic understanding.

The IRS distinguishes between "public charities" (universities, hospitals, churches, etc.) and "private charities' (private family foundations are the most common). What's the difference?

If the gift is given to a public charity, you can deduct the amount of the gift as an itemized deduction up to a maximum of 50 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If the gift exceeds this amount, you can apply the excess as deductions against future years' income for five years.

If the gift is to a private charity, then you can only deduct a maximum of 30 percent of your AGI, but any excess also can be carried forward five years.

Indirect gifts

Indirect gifts are often called "split interest" or "planned" gifts because some of the benefit from the gift is for the benefit of the charitable organization and some of the benefit of the assets being gifted will be retained by the grantor (or donor) and his or her family. The real beauty of charitable giving from the family perspective is that the IRS also allows tremendous tax benefits for "indirect gifts" — those left to charity through a trust or annuity.

In fact, the IRS also allows deductions for indirect gifts through irrevocable charitable remainder or lead trusts, and through charitable gift annuities, which provide lifetime income to the donor, as guaranteed by the charity and monitored by the state. By using an indirect gift, charitable planning can truly be a win-win-win situation: you win, your family wins, and your favorite charities win.

Common charitable-giving scenarios

The following are the most common charitable giving scenarios, where it makes financial sense for a family to consider charitable planning because of the tax benefit:

1. Sale of a highly appreciated asset

Many affluent people, especially those over 60, hold highly appreciated assets — usually real estate or stocks that have grown enormously in value over time. Even more problematic is the case in which there are few assets making up the bulk of someone's net worth. This is often the case when there is a closely-held family business or a family farm.

Regardless of the asset, you may want to sell the asset but don't want to pay the capital gains tax, thus reducing the after-tax value of the asset by up to 37 percent. Through the use of charitable-planning strategies, you may be able to unlock some of the appreciation and significantly reduce the capital gains tax while benefiting a favorite charity as well.

2. Need to generate family income from investment assets

As clients age and seek to reshuffle their asset allocation to produce more income and diversify their portfolios, they will be hit with a substantial tax on their gains. By giving to a charity, you have the chance to be creative in your approach to convert paper gains to cash flow, save taxes and turn nondeductible items into tax-deductible ones while addressing charitable objectives at the same time.

3. Estate planning

The most powerful benefits of charitable planning can be enjoyed when used as part of a multidisciplinary financial plan. Under current law, your family could pay as much as 40-60 percent in federal and state estate taxes, plus income tax on "IRD" assets such as pensions and IRAs. Charitable giving mediates many of these taxes.


If you have a charitable intent and want to reduce current income taxes, capital gains taxes or even estate taxes, then you should seriously consider charitable-planning techniques. Often, you and your family will stand to benefit as much as the charity itself.

The right team of advisors can help you understand the costs and benefits of charitable planning and manage all of the complex issues. In our next article, we will cover the most common charitable trust tools charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts.