Charitable giving can be complicated,
especially when it moves beyond handing over cash or writing a check. A recent Forbes article provides some practical
advice you may not have considered. The article is titled “Five Ways To Be Charitable Even If You
Aren't Bill Gates
.” And if you’re not Bill Gates, the “five ways” do
not require the complexities of family foundations.

Here are the Forbes tips (with some added commentary by yours truly) for your charitable

  1. Give the gift of
    education and medical care.
    Have you thought about giving to your own children or
    grandchildren and in the form of a 529 college savings plan or a direct gift to
    the college?  You can also pay tuition directly to a private school or college and not have to treat that payment as a gift for gift tax purposes.  A similar exclusion applies to payments made directly to doctors, dentists, orthodontists, or other medical care providers.
  2. Give your IRS
    distribution to charity.
    Since you have to take your required minimum
    distribution anyhow, send it directly to a charity instead. This option is
    available for the remainder of 2012, but its future is uncertain. This is a no-brainer if you are taking RMDs from your traditional IRA and are also charitably inclined.  You won't get a deduction, but you won't have to take the charitable gift into income.  The net result is a win for you and your favorite charity.
  3. Name
    your charity as your beneficiary on your retirement account.
    This option is
    appropriate if you’ve decided that any retirement funds left over should
    eventually pass to charity instead of loved ones. Be sure to designate your
    charitable beneficiaries accordingly! Note: The full amount of your retirement
    account given to charity is income tax free. If left to a non-charity, then the
    full amount is taxable as ordinary income.  AND your retirement account is includible in your estate for estate tax purposes.  If you are charitably inclined and have substantial retirement plan assets, this is an opportunity to avoid some double taxation (income tax + estate tax).
  4. Donor-advised funds. By giving to a
    donor advised fund, you can give today, take the charitable deduction in this
    year’s taxes, but decide which charities to benefit next year or beyond. They
    are easy to establish too.  In Hawaii, you can work with the Hawaii Chrisitian Foundation or the Hawaii Community Foundation.
  5. Charitable gift annuity. Are you keen
    on the idea of receiving a guaranteed lifetime monthly income, especially as an
    assurance in old age? If you also want to benefit charity in the process, then
    consider hitting two birds with one stone by opting for a charitable gift
    annuity. Not every charity will do this for you, but it's worth asking if your favorite ones will.

This is just an overview of the
“five ways” featured by Forbes, so be
sure to consult with your financial, tax and legal advisors regarding the
appropriateness of each for your circumstances. 

Another important point to remember is that paying estate tax (the tax on owning stuff when you die) is 100% optional.  You can give your loved ones a decent inheritance, benefit one or more charities for a term of years, and then have whatever is left of your estate go to your descendants.  This is a very powerful technique, called a Charitable Lead Trust.  You can create one of these during your lifetime or upon your death.

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