Charitable Remainder Trusts

Learn something new everyday – Donor investing donated funds? Possible?

I got one of those questions that throws off most planned giving professionals:  Can our donor give us a chunk of funds and “advise” on the investment of the gift?  (this was a donor who already had committed his entire multi-million dollar estate to the charity but was now getting fancy, thinking that he was a great stock picker – which he is but not something the charity wants to deal with).

You are thinking – please no!  That is what I was thinking.

So, doing my due diligence, I figured that if a donor is the co-trustee of a charitable remainder trust (“CRT”), he could manage the funds.  And, most of the trust income could be sent to the charity (as one of the income beneficiaries on a term of years CRT) – donor clearly didn’t want income anymore.  Letter rulings allow a charity as an income beneficiary of a CRT, as long as a living taxpayer is also receiving more than a “di minimis” payment (ie..someone is paying some taxes!).  The lowest above “di minimis” payment in the letter rulings was 5% of the CRT’s payout.  What a cool idea I thought.  A bit complex but would give this donor 20 years to invest funds and 95% of the CRT’s required payments would go to the charity towards his existing endowment.

But, I also wanted to confirm that letting a donor have say over an investment account was a big time “no-no”, so I went to the web.  Incredibly, I found out that there is a relatively recent letter ruling that ALLOWED a donor to be the investment manager over his donated funds, in a segregated account, under a handful of limitations and caveats.   If you are interested, click through to the below Planned Giving Design Center news story from 2004 (the letter ruling is still valid to whatever extent letter rulings are legally):

You learn something new everyday!

Planned Giving Ethics – Merrill Lynch Case Part 1

As mentioned last week (see ), 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 (, 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.

Planned Giving Nightmare CRT Case

This new legal ruling is for the die hard planned giving folk out there:

I haven’t spent enough time on it to give readers my summary and my uptake but from my first glance, it’s a real doozy of a fact pattern.

Here is a glimpse and a quote from the introduction of the opinion: A Merrill Lynch broker

“advised an elderly woman to place most of her life savings in a charitable remainder unitrust with a 10 percent annual payout, lifetime gifts to her children as successor-beneficiaries, and the remainder to go to five charities, an event expected to occur almost half a century later — objectives that all now seem to agree and understand were unrealistic and likely unattainable. In the spirit of cross-selling, a trust company sister entity of the brokerage firm was designated trustee. Legal advice was provided by an attorney selected by the brokerage firm; the attorney never even spoke with her client, the trustor.”

I think this case will be a spring board for a series of blog posts on ethics in the planned giving area!