Articles Posted in Charitable Remainder Trusts

“Not for ourselves alone are we born; our country, our friends, have a share in us” is a famous phrase by the Roman philosopher Cicero. While the phrase is several thousand years old, it still has great applicability to estate planning today, because many people are still seeking to leave a legacy of good for their community and friends after they pass on.

Leaving A Legacy Of Good

Americans are generous people. In the United States, charitable contributions by individuals make up a vast majority (72%) of all charitable donations to nonprofit organizations. In fact, the State of New York ranks fifth in overall charitable contributions, with individual donors making an average charitable contribution of $5,150 annually. In addition, these same charitable donors also make will bequests that are, on average, almost triple the amount of their lifetime donations.

Charity is an important part of an estate plan for New York families. Many residents have important causes that symbolize their own values and morals, including social, political, economic and religious non-profit groups. Donating funds via a will or trust is common for estates of all sizes–this is not just for the wealthy. Even relatively small donations can have a significant impact. In addition, giving funds to valued causes is a key way to pass on a final lesson to future generations.

There are many different ways to give assets to a charity at death. In the simplest form, funds can be given for the charity to use in any way it chooses. However, many donors have more specific wishes, often wanting to direct funds for very specific uses.

Understanding Donor Intent

In December we shared information on proposed changes at the federal level which might limit the tax-saving benefits of charitable deductions. President Obama previously suggested limiting certain charitable tax breaks for high earning individuals. This possible change was just one part of large ideas about re-writing significant portions of the U.S. tax code. Many are hoping to simplify the code in an effort to increase transparency.

The charitable deduction change proposal in particular drew the ire of many when first suggested. Now a large group of sitting U.S. Senators are adding their names to the effort to protect the charitable deduction status quo.

The Senate Letter

Every day thousands of New York residents give donations of all sizes to popular charities. From dropping a few bucks in a local red bucket during holiday season to making multi-million dollars gifts to universities and everything in between, millions of residents are committed to giving a portion of their wealth to others.

Charitable giving is an important part of many long-term financial plans and estate planning efforts. While giving to charity may seem like a straightforward process–no different than buying a birthday gift–in reality, these donations can be structured in sophisticated ways to benefit both the donor and donee. New Yorkers are advised to speak with legal professionals to learn about their options.

Donor Advised Funds

Upon visiting an estate planning lawyer for the first time and learning about available options, many are surprised at the flexibility of different legal tools involved in the transfer of property. Far from simply doling out assets to specific friends and family members, one has immense control in deciding how those assets are used, when they are received, and what can trigger the loss of those assets. In this way, unique plans can be crafty which account for any number of family dynamics–multiple marriages, concerns about ex-spouses, children with special needs, relatives with poor money management skills, and more.

Similarly, the same flexibility often exists with gifts to charity. Many New Yorkers decide to share part of their assets with favorite non-profit causes. Those gifts can be one-time transfers or they may involve the creation of trusts for use in specific ways. For example, one of the most common charitable trusts involves setting up a scholarship fund to an alma mater to benefit future students. The trust may be funded with various assets, growing over the years and helping countless students.

Those creating these trusts can set many different terms on the gifts. Perhaps you’d like the funds to be used solely for those interested in pursuing nursing or for those who came from a certain disadvantaged background. In most cases, an attorney can help craft the legal arrangement so that your exact wishes are carried out.

Last week we discussed the release of President Obama’s proposed budget. For estate planning purposes, one of the most obvious red flags in that proposal was a call for yet another edit to the federal estate tax. The President wants to raise the tax rate and lower the exemption level again, altering what was some thought was a more permanent fix agreed upon in the law passed in January.

But the estate tax is not the only aspect of the budget proposal which might affect long-term planning for New York residents. For example, the President is also calling for changes to how charitable contributions implicate tax matters. The possible change is being suggested in an attempt to increase tax revenues to plug budget holes.

The Future of Charitable Deductions

Like it or not, our world is infatuated with technology. Smartphones conduct intercontinental transactions. Friends across the country communicate through instantaneous text messaging, and telephones and tablets close distances and miles through face to face conversations. Because technology plays such an important role in our daily lives, today’s estate planning should include an arrangement for organizing and protecting technological and digital assets.

Dividing Up Digital Assets

We have frequently discussed how there are different kinds of digital assets to think about when drafting your estate plan. First, there are your personal digital assets, which would include any email accounts, personal social media accounts and maybe even a personal web site or personal blog. Personal digital assets might also include any photos or documents stored on different websites, like Snapfish, Shutterfly or Dropbox. Information stored in any cloud storage should also be considered personal digital assets.

Our estate planning attorneys often help New Yorkers create trusts that are used to pass on assets to charities. When structured properly, gifts to favorited causes is both a great way to give back and a smart financial move to save on taxes and ensure that your long-term inheritance wishes are met.

A Charitable Remainder Trust, for example, is sometimes a prudent estate planning tool. This is particularly useful for those with assets that have significantly appreciated who wish to save on taxes while generating an income stream on something that will eventually go to charity. Essentially, this works by creating a trust that is managed by the charity to which the asset will go. The trustee (the charity) then pays you a portion of the income generated by the trust for so many years or the rest of your life. Upon your passing the charity retains the principal.

These trusts have many benefits. They can take assets out of one’s estate for estate tax purposes. Also, income tax deductions can be taken on the fair market value of the interest that remains in the trust. By using appreciated assets, the capital gains tax can also be avoided.

The holiday season is a popular time for charitable giving. It is helpful for those considering gifts–particular sizeable donations–to properly think through all of the tax and legal implications. There are smart ways to make contributions and clumsy ways. As always, an estate planning lawyer or similar professional can explain how any such decision is best carried out.

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported recently on the rise of “donor-advised” funds. The use of these tools is likely spurred by two tax uncertainties in the upcoming year. Will charitable deductions on taxes be limited in the future, counseling toward a large gift this year? Will income tax rates increase next year, counseling toward using the deduction next year instead of this year? It is a somewhat tricky problem, as no one knows for sure what lawmakers might decide.

That is where these donor-advised funds come into play. They are accounts managed by national charities and foundations. The basic idea is that a donor can give the gift this year–locking in a tax deduction–while waiting to actual disperse the funds to the charities as they see fit over time. The funds grow tax-free throughout this period.

A perennial hot-button topic in estate planning and the creation of inheritance documents involves the passing on of personal values. Of course, the majority of work related to estate plans invovles physical assets: who gets the house, the bank accounts, the stocks, the insurance, the family china, and more. Making these allocations efficiently and saving on taxes are the hallmarks of these preparations. But our team often discusses the other aspects of estate planning, including setting in place material that ensures one leaves a legacy for those they are leaving behind.

This often includes spiritual issues but can just as well include secular notions like hard work, the importance of charity, and other values.

But how are these issues woven into an estate plan?

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