The IRS discount rate for August for valuing charitable gifts (referred to as the AFR or midterm rate) was just announced at 1%. (This very low rate is actually negative for life income gifts like gift annuities or charitable remainder trusts because it reduces the income tax deduction but for lead trusts, it increases the amount of gift tax deduction – see http://plannedgivingadvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/understanding-charitable-lead-trusts.pdf for an in-depth look at lead trusts)
The estate tax, as mentioned often on this blog, is scheduled to jump to the 2001 rates of 55% top bracket and only a $1 million lifetime exemption on 1/1/13.
If there was ever a time to think about a lead trust – for the charitably inclined who are also concerned about estate taxes – it is now!
Ok, let’s be real, how many of these trusts are really going to happen? And, if not many, why should we (the fundraisers and other nonprofit leaders) care about them?
In 2001, there were 4,571 lead trust tax returns filed. In 2010, there were 6,609 such returns. Not that many considering that these trusts last often for 15 to 20 years. Looking at charitable remainder trusts, we see over 100,000 of them in existence as of 2010. Probably in the millions for gift annuities.
There have been plenty of favorable times for lead trusts yet they haven’t “taken off” in the planning world.
Well, I actually don’t believe we will see very many lead trusts created now, regardless of the “perfect storm” environment. Lot’s of reasons. Primarily, they are still too complex not only for donors but also for their advisors. And, in any case, if you understand them well, you will understand why they don’t work that often.
Here is an example that I just ran today, under the new all time low 1% AFR: a 15-year $1 million funded lead annuity trust with a maxed-out gift tax deduction (i.e. give me an illustration that shows a $0 gift to the kids). The payout rate: approx. 7.3%. That means for this trust to really work well for everyone involved (charity and kids), it better earn at least 8% a year, with no risk of big investment losses (especially in the early years) for 15 years. In other words, unless someone has an asset that is going to produce that 8% or better return in a guaranteed way for 15 years, your donor might be better offer making annual gifts than to use a lead trust.
That actually takes us to why lead trusts are important for fundraisers. You see, if you enter into lead trust discussions with a donor, you know a few things about the donor’s situation:
- They are wealthy enough to be concerned about estate taxes.
- They are charitable enough to be looking for a way to benefit your organization through their estate plans.
- They are willing to entertain the best possible tax ways to help your organization, as long as they meet some other planning goals.
- Actually, to me, it shows that they really like the idea of helping your organization in a big way.
Think about it. If you are knowledgeable enough on this topic to spot a potential lead trust donor and feel comfortable enough starting the conversation (with at least an attorney or consultant to help out when it gets beyond your knowledge), the end result may be a wonderful gift.
It just might not be a lead trust – it may end up being a straight multi-year pledge! You may also end up with a bequest commitment. Could be a very one, considering the donor attributes mentioned above.
So, it is worth it for fundraisers to get up to speed on this option. You never know!