Scams can also be avoided by long-term planning and years of due diligence, Berger says.
"The best way to give is in a planned, proactive way both while you're alive as well as after death. As part of financial planning, when you look at your investments, budgets, and plans for each year, charitable giving really should be a part of that plan. It should involve giving on some consistent basis annually as well as after death," he says.
Tax benefits for the living. Tax benefits for charitable gifts are also available for the living. However, these benefits are more difficult to reap. In order to claim deductions for donations, filers must itemize deductions. And for many Americans, the amount given to charity in a year along with other deductions does not exceed the standard deduction allowed by the IRS—$5,950 for singles and $11,900 for joint couples in 2012. In this case, there is no tax benefit.
But there is a benefit for those whose deductions and charitable donations are greater than the standard deduction. In this case, all donations can be written off. This includes not just monetary donations, but donations of clothes, cars, goods, and other services.
For donations of less than $250, all a tax filer needs is a simple receipt. Donations of more than $250 require a letter from the organization specifying the donation. Larger donations require additional paperwork.
The reality: The more generous one is, the more complicated taxes become (and as returns become more complex, Berger recommends seeking counsel from a tax professional).