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An artistic representation of multi-colored hands cradling coins and a sprouting plant, symbolizing the nurturing growth of legacy through charitable estate planning.

Charitable estate planning: Leaving a legacy can deliver financial benefits

by Legacy Plan
May 21, 2024

Charitable estate planning can offer a multitude of benefits that include income tax deductions, reduced estate taxes and the satisfaction of supporting causes close to your heart. By carefully structuring your charitable giving through various estate planning tools, such as trusts, you can create a lasting legacy and minimize your tax liability. This article will explore the advantages of charitable estate planning, the different strategies available and the importance of working with experienced professionals to ensure your plans are properly implemented.

What is charitable estate planning?

Charitable estate planning is the process of incorporating gifts to charitable organizations into your overall estate plan. This can be accomplished through various means, such as including specific bequests in your will, establishing charitable trusts or naming charities as beneficiaries of your retirement accounts or life insurance policies. The primary goals of charitable estate planning are to support causes that are important to you, create a lasting legacy and potentially reduce your tax liability.

By carefully structuring your charitable giving, you can maximize the benefits for both the charities you support and your own financial situation. This may include reducing your income taxes during your lifetime, minimizing estate taxes upon your death and potentially avoiding capital gains taxes on highly appreciated assets. Charitable estate planning allows you to align your philanthropic goals with your overall financial and estate planning objectives.

What are the benefits of including charitable giving in your estate plan?

A diverse group of five smiling volunteers wearing blue shirts surrounded by donation boxes, embodying the spirit of charitable giving and community support in legacy planning.

Including charitable giving in your estate plan can provide numerous benefits, both personal and financial. First and foremost, it allows you to support causes and organizations that align with your values and beliefs, creating a lasting impact that extends beyond your lifetime. This can be an emotionally rewarding experience, knowing that your legacy will continue to make a difference in the world.

In addition to the personal satisfaction of giving back, charitable estate planning can also offer significant tax benefits. Depending on how you structure your donations, you may be able to:

  • Reduce your income taxes. Certain charitable giving strategies, such as charitable remainder trusts, can provide you with an income stream during your lifetime while potentially qualifying for an income tax deduction when you fund the trust.
  • Lower your estate taxes. By removing assets from your estate through charitable donations, you can reduce the overall value of your estate, potentially minimizing the amount of estate taxes your estate may owe upon your passing.
  • Avoid capital gains taxes. If you fund a charitable trust with highly appreciated assets such as stocks or real estate, you may be able to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the sale of those assets.

How do I leave money to a charity in my will?

One of the simplest ways to include charitable giving in your estate plan is to leave money to a charity in your will. To do this, you'll need to include a specific bequest in your will that outlines the charity or charities you wish to support and the amount or percentage of your estate you want to allocate to each.

When drafting your will, it's essential to use the correct legal name of the charity and to be as specific as possible about your intentions. This can help prevent confusion or disputes during the probate process. You may also want to include language that allows for flexibility in case the charity you named ceases to exist or changes its mission.

It's important to note that leaving money to a charity in your will may not provide any immediate tax benefits, as the donation will only take effect upon your death. However, charitable bequests can be an effective way to reduce the size of your taxable estate and minimize the estate taxes your beneficiaries may owe.

What are some popular charitable estate planning strategies?

Wooden letter tiles spelling 'CRT' on a desk signify Charitable Remainder Trusts, a tool in charitable estate planning to reduce estate tax and support charitable organizations.

There are several charitable estate planning strategies available, each with its own unique benefits and considerations. Two of the most common strategies are:

  • Charitable remainder trusts (CRTs). A CRT is an irrevocable trust that allows you to transfer assets to the trust, with the income generated from those assets paid to you or a designated beneficiary for a specified period or for life. Upon the termination of the trust, the remaining assets are transferred to the charity or charities of your choice. CRTs can provide income tax deductions, potential capital gains tax avoidance and estate tax benefits.
  • Charitable lead trusts (CLTs). A CLT operates in the opposite manner of a CRT. With a CLT, the charity receives an income stream from the trust for a specified period, and upon the trust's termination, the remaining assets are transferred to your designated beneficiaries, typically your family members. CLTs can help reduce your estate tax liability by removing assets from your estate while still providing for your loved ones.

Other charitable estate planning options include making outright bequests to charities in your will or revocable living trust, naming charities as designated beneficiaries of your retirement accounts or life insurance policies or establishing a private foundation or donor-advised fund.

Can you dictate assets you want given to charity in your estate plan?

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You can specify the assets you want to give to charity in your estate plan. This can be done through various means, such as:

  • Specific bequests in your will. You can designate specific assets such as real estate, artwork or investments to be given to a charity upon your death.
  • Charitable trusts. When creating a charitable remainder trust or charitable lead trust, you can fund the trust with specific assets, such as appreciated stocks or real estate, which will ultimately benefit the charity you choose.
  • Beneficiary designations. You can name charities as beneficiaries of specific assets, such as retirement accounts or life insurance policies, which will pass directly to the charity upon your death, bypassing probate.

It's crucial to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your charitable intentions are properly documented and that the assets you wish to donate are correctly titled and transferred. Your attorney can also help you navigate any potential tax implications and ensure that your charitable giving aligns with your overall estate planning goals.

Can you give your inheritance to charity?

You can choose to give your inheritance to charity. If you are the beneficiary of an estate and have received an inheritance, you have the right to donate some or all of that inheritance to the charitable organizations of your choice.

However, it's important to note that if you receive an inheritance and then choose to donate it to charity, you may not receive the same tax benefits as if the donation had been made directly from the estate. In some cases, it may be more advantageous from a tax perspective for the original estate owner to include charitable giving in their estate plan, rather than leaving the inheritance to you with the intention of you donating it later.

If you do choose to donate your inheritance to charity, be sure to keep accurate records of your donations and consult with a financial professional to understand any potential tax implications. Donating appreciated assets, such as stocks or real estate, directly to charity rather than selling them first and donating the proceeds may offer additional tax benefits.

How do you ensure your charitable estate planning is properly structured?

To maximize the benefits of charitable estate planning and ensure your plans are carried out according to your wishes, it is crucial to work with professionals experienced in this area of law. Here are some key considerations:

  • Qualifying charities. To receive the full tax benefits of charitable giving, you must donate to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations recognized by the IRS. Your estate planning attorney can help you verify the status of your chosen charities.
  • Proper trust structure. Charitable trusts must be properly drafted and administered to qualify for tax benefits. This includes adhering to specific requirements regarding the distribution of income and the timing of asset transfers. An experienced estate planning attorney can ensure your trusts are structured correctly and comply with all relevant laws and regulations.
  • Ongoing management. Charitable trusts require ongoing management and administration to ensure they continue to operate as intended. This may include investment management, record-keeping and tax filings. Working with a knowledgeable trustee or trust administration professional can help ensure your trust remains in compliance and fulfills its intended purpose.

What are the first steps in incorporating charitable giving into your estate plan?

A pile of U.S. dollar bills with a label reading 'Charitable Giving,' representing the role of financial contributions in reducing tax liability through donations to charitable organizations in estate plans.

If you are interested in incorporating charitable giving into your estate plan, the first step is to identify the causes and organizations you wish to support. Consider your values, beliefs and personal experiences when selecting charities that align with your goals.

Next, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you evaluate the various charitable giving strategies available and determine which options best suit your needs. Your attorney can also assist you in drafting the necessary legal documents, such as trust agreements or will provisions, to ensure your charitable goals are properly integrated into your overall estate plan.

Finally, communicate your charitable intentions to your family members and other beneficiaries. This can help ensure that everyone understands your wishes and can help prevent potential conflicts or misunderstandings down the road.


Incorporating charitable giving into your estate plan can be a rewarding way to leave a lasting legacy while potentially reducing your tax liability and providing for your loved ones. By working with experienced professionals to carefully structure your charitable donations through tools like charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts and specific bequests in your will, you can create a plan that maximizes the benefits for both you and the causes you support. Remember to choose qualified charities, properly draft and administer your trusts and communicate your intentions to your family to ensure a smooth and effective charitable estate planning process.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at

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