By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys

Americans are givers. In 2010, we gave more than $290 billion to our favorite causes, with the vast majority of charitable giving, $212 billion, donated by individuals or household donors.

Federal tax laws regarding cash gifts to individuals support this generosity and can have a big impact on your estate taxes. A taxpayer in 2013 can give as much as $14,000 per year to separate individuals, gift and estate tax-free. If the taxpayer is married, the couple can make gifts of up to $28,000 to any individual.

One of the simplest forms of charitable gift giving is to give outright to 501(c)(3) organizations. As you probably know, even small cash or non-cash contributions can qualify for income tax deductions when they’re made to a qualifying 501(c)(3) organization. To get a tax deduction, simply get substantiating documentation from the charity and include it with your federal tax filing.

Giving small donations to charitable causes can earn you a tax deduction, but did you know that federal gift tax laws allow you to give substantial sums to Trusts, with the benefit of significant tax savings? Charitable Trusts can be flexible tools for making future gifts to charity and can also provide an income stream for you, your spouse, or loved one.

The Charitable Remainder Trust, or CRT, is one type of charitable Trust with positive tax consequences. With a CRT, the donor can arrange for charitable gifts by transferring assets into the Trust, with the Trust providing distributions to the donor during his or her lifetime. At the end of the CRT’s term, the Trust property is transferred to a named beneficiary in the Trust.

Yet another charitable Trust is the Charitable Lead Trust, or CLT. Through this type of Trust, a charitable concern gets distributions for a certain term, and when the term of the Trust ends, the remainder is transferred to a non-charitable beneficiary such as the donor’s children.

Some gift-giving strategies, like an outright donation to a 501(c)(3), are fairly straightforward. However, some are more complex, as is the case with a CRT or a CLT. This is why it’s important to consult with an attorney who has been trained in estate planning. He or she can help you create a gift-giving and tax-saving strategy that addresses your particular circumstance.

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