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Gifting to Reduce Your Taxable Estate

March 02, 2020

 Control Your Legacy with a Private Foundation

Private foundations can let you control your gifts, reduce taxes and impart your values to future generations.


Call it the golf and gala glut: the growing list of charitable parties, balls and outings aimed at raising funds for medical research, religious charities or educational causes. If your calendar has filled with worthy causes seeking your name and your wallet, you may want to consider channeling your time and money into a private family foundation.


If you think private family foundations belong to the Gates, Fords and Rockefellers of the world, you may be surprised by the estate planning industry’s rule of thumb: a foundation needs to have an annual minimum of about $25,000 – from endowments, annual contributions or both – available for making grants. This may be prohibitive to estates under $2 million, but you certainly don’t need to possess the kind of resources Bill and Melinda Gates have put into their foundation.


You can also establish a standby foundation, which is created to receive lifetime contributions or a major bequest; or a flow-through foundation, which converts appreciated property into cash and distributes the proceeds to public charities – but does not build up an endowment. A flow-through foundation can provide tax benefits if you have highly-appreciated assets whose sale would result in significant capital gains taxes.


Individuals may deduct cash contributions to a private foundation up to 50 percent of the donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI) and appreciated property up to 30 percent of AGI. All contributions specified in a will are fully deductible for estate tax purposes.


Your foundation can be a non-operating foundation, meaning it makes grants to help fund the efforts of other organizations or individuals. The alternative is an operating foundation, which runs a facility or institution, such as a museum or research lab. Your foundation’s purpose can be as broad as world hunger or as specific as modest scholarships to a local liberal arts college.


Of course, private family foundations must operate according to tax law, including distributing the required minimum percentage of assets each year and paying tax on investment income. However, as part of an overall retirement and estate plan, a private family foundation decreases the amount of taxable assets in your estate. You can make gifts to your foundation without affecting the annual gift tax exclusion or the gift tax credit.


For many high net worth individuals, a major attraction of the private family foundation is the greater control compared to a large lump-sum donation to a public charity or the less flexible charitable trust. While trust instruments, once finalized, can be difficult to change, a private foundation incorporated as a nonprofit can adjust its goals and mission over time.


With a private family foundation, you can involve your family directly in the issues and activities that mean the most to you for generations to come. Family members can even receive salaries as trustees, directors or employees of the foundation, provided they legitimately serve in those roles and their work justifies their salary.


A private family foundation can provide greater control of your charitable giving, income and estate tax benefits and a way to share your values with future generations. Creating a foundation requires careful consideration and planning. Please consult with your legal, tax and investment advisors for more information.