Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It is Better to Give than Receive

At this time of the year, our thoughts turn to the holidays and sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of shopping, parties, family gatherings, and religious services. Our minds race with countless questions; what should I get for everyone; what am I getting; where are we going; what time is that party; and will I survive the stress?
In addition, we also take time to reflect on the blessings of our family, friends, and business acquaintances. We remember that not all people are so fortunate and we reach out a hand to our fellow man through acts of charity. We all feel warmer inside after giving, whether to the Salvation Army Red Kettle at the mall, to our own church or temple, to the local food kitchen, or to countless other groups that seek to assist those in need or find cures for medical conditions. Not only does charitable giving feel good, but also it is good for you.
  •      Charitable contributions are income tax deductible: Gifts made directly to charities are income tax deductible and reduce your taxable income in the year of the contribution, if the charity receives the gift by December 31.
  •     Charitable contributions are not counted when determining estate tax liability: The value of gifts made at death reduce your taxable estate, saving 35%-50% depending upon the current estate tax rate
  •     If structured properly, charitable contributions may avoid capital gains on highly appreciated property: By executing a charitable trust, it is possible to provide funds to charities while also gaining additional tax advantages.

Some people want to retain control over assets they intend to give away, allowing them to take advantage of a current or future income stream while also guaranteeing a benefit to their favorite charities at some point in time. Achieving these goals is possible with a charitable trust. Charitable trusts take advantage of the differences between present interests (or as I like to refer to them “here” interests) and future interests (“hereafter” interests) to provide benefits to trust beneficiaries.
Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) allows you to receive the current income stream from assets transferred to the trust and distributes the remainder portion to the charity after a specified time, or at your death. You get to enjoy the “here” and the charity enjoys the “hereafter.” Through the use of a properly structured CRT, you, your heirs and your chosen charities all benefit, and the IRS receives nothing
The CRT is especially useful where the transferred asset is highly appreciated. If the CRT trustee sells appreciated property, following the property’s transfer to the CRT, there is no capital gains tax liability (unlike if you sold the property yourself). This results in the availability of more assets to provide greater income in the “here.”
While any distributed trust income is taxed to you as ordinary income or capital gains, depending upon its character, you may consider leveraging the CRT by using such income you receive to fund gifts to an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust so your heirs can receive more value at your death without it being subject to income or estate taxes. Alternatively, some people name their children or grandchildren as the current beneficiaries of the CRT to provide those beneficiaries with income taxed at a lower rate than if the grantor of the CRT took distributions directly.
A final thought on the use of CRTs, the amount of the income tax deduction for contributions to the CRT is determined using IRS tables. The longer the period before the charity gets complete control of the trust property, the smaller the deduction you are able to take.
A Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) functions similar to a CRT but provides for the charity in the “here” by giving the charity the current income stream from assets transferred to the trust and for other beneficiaries in the “hereafter” by distributing the remainder portion to family members after a specified time or your death. Again, the amount of the income tax deduction for contributions to the CLT is determined using IRS tables. The longer the period the charity gets the income from the trust property, the smaller the gift to the remainder beneficiaries, and the larger the deduction you are able to take. However, tax rules require you pay tax on the income as the charitable beneficiary receives in order to take the immediate charitable income tax deduction. By making use of a CLT, you can fulfill your charitable inclinations, shift income and assets to eventual beneficiaries with little gift tax cost, and remove assets form your estate. 
The CRT and the CLT both serve as excellent methods of charitable giving as part of a larger estate plan. If however your charitable inclinations include a long-term, active charitable commitment, it may be appropriate to consider organizing your own Charitable Foundation. While creating and maintaining a Foundation requires substantial administrative effort, the use of a Foundation allows you to receive charitable tax deductions, manage the long-term distribution of assets, choose and change which charities benefit from your philanthropy, and potentially provide a vehicle for a multigenerational commitment to doing good works.
No matter how you decide to satisfy your charitable wishes, with proper planning you can benefit your favorite causes, shift income and assets from your estate to other family members and teach your children and grandchildren the lesson of doing good works. If you have specific questions regarding charitable trusts and foundations, feel free to email us or leave them in the comments section.

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