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Charitable Gifts as Contracts

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What is a Charitable Gift?

A charitable gift is the giving of wealth to a charitable cause.  Charitable gifts are most commonly made through a will or trust.  Charitable giving serves the dual purposes of helping a charitable cause and giving the donor and their heirs a significant tax break

I Pledged to Make a Charitable Gift But Have Since Changed My Mind.  Will I Be Forced To Pay?

Whether you will be forced to follow through on a pledge to give money to a charity depends on a few important factors.  The court will ask the following questions:

  • Was there a contract?  It is important to determine whether your pledge was a mere gratuitous promise, or whether a binding contract was formed.  If the elements of a binding contract are met, you will be held to your pledge.  However, if you wish to renege on your pledge because you feel that the charity has not lived up to their end of a promise, you may be able to breach the contract without penalty.  Other breach of contract defenses exist, such as if your pledge was made while you were intoxicated.  (Charities are notorious for hosting open bar fund-raising events!) 
  • Did your promise, although not a contract, reasonably induce action?  Even if a court determines that your promise was not a contract, you may still be forced to pay.  Under the doctrine of detrimental reliance, a court may make you honor your pledge.  However, this will only be done if the charity reasonably relied on your promise to their detriment, and the only way injustice can be avoided is through enforcement of it.
  • Does your state have any specific laws on charitable giving?  Some states have adopted laws to clearly solve this problem.  In some states all promises of charitable gifts will be enforced, while in others, a formal writing is required.

Do I Need a Lawyer For My Charitable Pledge Problem?

As you can see, there are a number of very complex legal issues involved in charitable giving problems.  An experienced contract attorney can advise you of your rights and duties and ensure that you and your assets remain protected.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 12-19-2012 04:21 PM PST

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