Charitable Planning with Trusts

Charitable Remainder Trusts

The Charitable Remainder Trust (‘CRT’) is a type of trust specifically authorized by the Internal Revenue Code. These irrevocable trusts permit you to transfer ownership of assets to the trust in exchange for an income stream to the person or persons of your choice (typically you, your spouse or you and your spouse) for life or for a specified term of up to 20 years. With the most common type of Charitable Remainder Trust, at the end of the term, the balance of the trust property (the ‘remainder interest’) is transferred to a specified charity or charities. Charitable Remainder Trusts reduce estate taxes because you are transferring ownership to the trust of assets that otherwise would be counted for estate tax purposes.

A Charitable Remainder Trust can be set up as part of your revocable living trust planning, coming into existence at the time of your death, or as a stand-alone trust during your lifetime. At the time of creation of the CRT you or your estate will be entitled to a charitable deduction in the amount of the current value of the gift that will eventually go to charity. If the income recipient is someone other than you or your spouse there will be gift tax consequences to the transfer to the CRT.

Charitable Remainder Trusts are tax-exempt entities. In other words, when a Charitable Remainder Trust sells an asset it pays no income tax on the gain in that asset. Therefore, after a sale the trust has more available to invest than if the asset were sold outside of the Charitable Remainder Trust and subject to tax. Accordingly, Charitable Remainder trusts are particularly suited for highly appreciated assets, such as real estate and stock in a closely held business, or assets subject to income tax such as qualified plans and IRAs. While the Charitable Remainder Trust does not pay tax on the sale of its assets, the tax is not avoided altogether. The payments to the income recipient will be subject to tax.

There are several types of Charitable Remainder Trusts. For example, the Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust pays a fixed dollar amount (for example, $80,000 per year) to the income recipient at least annually. Another type of CRT, the Charitable Remainder Unitrust, pays a fixed percentage of the value of the trust assets each year to the income recipient (for example, 8% of the value as of the preceding January 1). A third type, perhaps the most common, allows you to transfer non-income producing property to the CRT and have the trust convert to a Charitable Remainder Unitrust upon the sale or happening of a specified event, for example upon reaching a specified retirement age.

At the end of the term of a Charitable Remainder Trust, the remainder interest passes to qualified charities as defined under the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, any charity that has received tax-exempt status through an IRS determination qualifies, but this is not always the case. It is possible for you to name a private foundation established by you as the charitable beneficiary.

Charitable Lead Trusts

The Charitable Lead Trust is a type of charitable trust that can reduce or virtually eliminate all estate tax on wealth passing to heirs. In order to accomplish this goal, you create a trust that grants to a charity or charities, for a set number of years, the first or ‘lead’ right to receive a payment from the trust. At the end of the term of years, your children or grandchildren receive the balance of the trust property which often is greater than the amount contributed free of estate tax in most instances. Although the Charitable Lead Trust is a complex estate planning strategy, the steps to implement it are few and simple from your perspective. Here is how one of the most frequently used Charitable Lead Trusts, the Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, operates:

You, as grantors, create a Charitable Lead Trust as part of your revocable living trust planning. Upon the death of the survivor of the two of you, a substantial amount of property will pass to the Charitable Lead Trust. The income beneficiary of the Charitable Lead Trust will be a qualified charitable organization, chosen by the two of you or by the survivor of you, named in your revocable living trust. The charitable income beneficiary receives a fixed, guaranteed amount from the trust for a certain number of years (determined by you with the assistance of your legal and financial advisors). Generally, any charity that has received tax-exempt status through an IRS determination qualifies, but this is not always the case. It is possible for you to name a private foundation established by you as the charitable beneficiary. If so, you must have very limited authority over which charity is to receive money from the foundation. Too much control while you are alive will result in adverse tax consequences.

At the end of the Charitable Lead Trust’s term, the remaining assets in the trust pass to non-charitable trust beneficiaries such as children and grandchildren, free of estate and gift tax. These assets can pass outright to the beneficiaries, or can continue to be held in trust, either in new trusts or in trusts previously established for the benefit and protection of beneficiaries.

The charity will receive the same dollar amount each year, no matter how its investments perform. The remainder interest ultimately passing to the heirs, however, will be affected by the performance of the trust’s investments.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts are particularly suited for hard-to-value assets (such as real estate or family limited liability company interests) and assets which are expected to grow rapidly in value.