Spitzer's office wrote to Congress suggesting legislative changes that include preventing donors from deducting the portions of their charitable gift that go to professional fundraisers. And citing governance abuses by the boards at more than two dozen private foundations in New York-including misuse of funds and lack of professional oversight-the attorney general's office said it would like the IRS to limit private foundations to at least $20 million in assets. Given the influence of both Spitzer's name and the size of New York state, his office's rumblings could have a tremendous impact.

"That's not going anywhere," Mellinger says confidently. "I've met with the Charities Bureau in the attorney general's office, and they realize they took a radical position to make a point. They're finding less than 1% of the private foundations they've audited have issues, and the easiest thing to do is to say, 'We'll just not let them exist.' It's like saying corporations can't exist unless they have $20 million in sales."

And then there's the potential impact of the new tax policy on charitable giving, where lower taxes on capital gains and ordinary income could take away some of the incentive to be philanthropic. "The economic reasons for charitable giving have declined, so now the onus is on doing the right thing," says Gott from Kochis Fitz. "People will now have to have more philanthropic intent."

Will potential donors step up to the plate? "There will always be people who give to charity purely for tax purposes," says Guard, the Florida planner. "But I think the vast majority who give want to give something back to society."

And advisors can play a big role in that.

"Financial advisors can do a lot of the groundwork to gauge priorities, whether it be program costs or control over giving, to get the process started," says Kelly of Charles Haines LLC. "Advisors can start out with the client and help get them pointed down the road. At some point, they might want to hand them off to an expert."

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