Planned Giving Ethics – Merrill Lynch Case Part 1

As mentioned last week (see https://theplannedgivingblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/planned-giving-nightmare-crt-case/ ), there was a recent court ruling out of the State of Delaware regarding a really botched charitable remainder trust situation.

Rather than trying to review the entire case in one post, I plan on writing short posts related to the many ethics issues raised in the case. In other words, I think the case itself is great for training purposes – getting accustomed to the nuances that we planned giving officers should be aware of, but the ruling itself should have little or no impact on the field.

If you try reading the case (http://courts.delaware.gov/opinions/%28jt5l5vngapjgmyzobwkq5ejj%29/download.aspx?ID=126540), you’ll see some nice biographical info on the victims but here is my short version (at least the relevant facts):

Husband and wife (she is 75 and he is 10 years or more older) save over $800,000 in Esso/Exxon stock from his career, their nest egg. At some point, the husband comes to rely on a Merrill Lynch broker and instructs his wife (not typically involved in the family finances) to stick with this guy’s advice when his health starts to deteriorate. Sadly for this family, the wife listened to her husband on this issue and followed the advice of the Merrill broker to put their entire Exxon stock nest egg into a 10% Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT), income for lives of husband and wife, and then to their 3 children, before eventually distributing remainder funds to 5 charities in approximately 50 years. This was finalized in 1996, before the 10% remainder rule came into effect – their deduction on this $840,000 CRUT was less than $10,000.

The first lesson: A Merrill Lynch stock broker, or any other stock broker or insurance salesman or financial planner, is NOT YOUR ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY. Even if he has a law degree or even practiced estate planning law. He is a salesman who is selling products or investments. Your attorney is someone who represents only YOUR interests, not the interests of the commissions to be had from selling various products to you.

In other words, beware of Merrill Lynch guy’s estate planning advice.

In truth, this also applies to planned giving officers.

The take way for planned giving officers is to remember and communicate that donors need independent counsel, their own attorneys, to review various plans that have any impact on a donor’s estate. Educate your donors not to rely on you or their Merrill Lynch stock broker for estate planning, especially significant parts of an estate.

To be continued.

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