In the News

Philanthropy begins at home

Saturday, July 1, 2000
by Nancy L. Torner


But, an attorney's office is one place where discussions about philanthropic giving should start, according to Valerie S. Lies, president of the Donors Forum of Chicago.

Marc J. Lane, Law Offices of Marc J. Lane, P.C., a forum associate member, said he and other lawyers are obligated to inform clients about philanthropic opinions and to educate clients about the tax advantages of charitable giving. "Those who fail to broach the subject should be admonished," Lane said.

"They have an obligation to bring it to the attention of clients," Lane said. "It seems to me that it's an omission if they don't. If I don't ask the question because I'm afraid of the answer, I'm not a very good lawyer."

Lane represents both donors and charities. "Clients who are potential donors generally have greater wealth than they or their children are likely to spend," he said.

"The topic of philanthropic giving can arise in discussions about estate and income tax planning, investing, insurance and the intergenerational ownership or succession of a business," he said.

"Talking about establishing a charitable trust is no surprise to clients who sit on charitable boards; but clients who have no particular charitable motivation may need to hear about tax advantages of trusts," he said.

"I think the fear is that when an attorney brings [philanthropic giving] forward, that the client will see this as overreaching," Lane said.

"If an attorney has a good rapport with a client and communicate candidly and openly, this shouldn't be a problem," Lane said.

"The matter needs to be presented matter-of-factly, and it needs to be presented non-judgmentally," Lane said. "Then, what you're really doing is exposing your clients to a range of options. Then the client should walk away happy."

"Client concerns boil down to questions about control and flexibility," Lane said. "People worry that their families might have unforeseen needs for the money, that the mission of the charity might change, and that parting with money will affect the family's ability to meet financial goals. They also ask about tax advantages."

"Increasingly, philanthropic giving is becoming a family decision," Lane said. "He is handling a trust that involves four generations of the same family. The family will come out ahead even after the gift is made.

"When it's done right, it's a win-win situation," Lane said, "and yet lawyers back away from it."


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