Oct
13
2010

A Commitment to Charitable Giving and the Giving Pledge.

Have you heard about the Giving Pledge? Forty U.S. billionaires have committed to give at least 50% of their wealth to charity. Here is the website to check it out as well as the billionaires’ personal pledge letters: givingpledge.org. The likely suspects are there: Buffett, Gates, Ellison, Turner. I’m seeing the same idea in my practice, just on a smaller scale.

I’m continually amazed at so many of our estate planning clients’ commitment to philanthropy, and these individuals aren’t necessarily the childless. Many have children, grandchildren, and actually have very strong relationships with them, not necessarily the dysfunction you might suspect when you find out a client wants to give substantially all of his or her wealth to charity, although there are occasionally those who are “disinheriting” the kids for various reasons.

Just recently, I met a wonderful couple who engaged me to help with estate planning. They have self-made wealth in the several tens of millions of dollars (and yes, I received their permission to blog about them on a no-name basis). I’ll call them here the “Givers”. The Givers have several children and grandchildren and are close with them all. Most clients would leave all of their wealth in trusts for their lineal descendants, or maybe even outright. I would discuss with THOSE clients all the estate tax reduction tools in our arsenal with such acronyms as QTIPs, GRATs, QPRTs and the like. I would discuss how to leverage lifetime giving. However, with the Givers the planning is simple: give almost all the wealth to charity, and since those transfers are tax-free, the planning is relatively simple. Now, don’t get me wrong, they are helping their kids and grandkids with some lifetime gifts and are leaving them some relatively small gifts at death, but the majority, I’d even say the overwhelming majority, of their assets is either going to charity during life or at death. Maybe in doing this, they give their kids the biggest gift: the gift of NOT giving them overwhelming wealth, but that’s a topic for another day and for a different expert in another field.

On the Giving Pledge’s website, it states that the billionaires got their inspiration to give from “efforts in the past and at present that encourage and recognize givers of all financial means and backgrounds. We are inspired by the example set by millions of Americans who give generously (and often at great personal sacrifice) to make the world a better place.” I’m witnessing some of that first hand with clients like the Givers. My main point of this post is to demonstrate the charitable giving that is happening, and while some is public such as those who are a part of the Giving Pledge, a lot is also happening quietly, in the offices of law firms and financial institutions. I see it surprisingly frequently and it is inspiring.

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