Many people want to use part of their estate to help charities they believe in—leaving a legacy of helping out the less fortunate, nurturing the arts or supporting other important causes.

Giving to charity over your lifetime can be powerful. Not only can you make an impact on the charities you care about, but you enjoy personal satisfaction and even charitable deductions. Still, since the tax laws are in a state of flux (and we can only expect them to become more uncertain as the politics in Washington continues to boil over), making substantial lifetime gifts may become more dicey, especially given the fragile economy. As a result, giving at your death may be more attractive and practical. As the Wall Street Journal points out, there is always the option of leaving a bequest.

One way to make a postmortem bequest is through your Last Will and Testament. While you lose the lifetime charitable deduction, the bequeathed amount is deducted from your estate value. Depending on the size of your estate, that deduction can be significant. It’s true that the estate tax exemption amount is (for most Americans) a safe $5 million, but there’s no guarantee it will stay there (as with the gift tax laws).

Nevertheless, a bequest also is a more malleable means to benefit charity, since you can think about your decision over a longer period and can give more types of assets. A classic example is the ability to name a charity as beneficiary to your IRA without the income tax burden of required minimum distributions. Remember: Charities do not have to pay income taxes on your IRA like your heirs would. Indeed, there are many powerful tools to use when making a bequest, depending on the type of asset. Be sure to read the original Wall Street Journal article for more ideas.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (October 1, 2011) “The Quest for the Right Bequest


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