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Estate: Do You Need A Trust Or Foundation?

Aug 17, 2007
Trusts and private foundations aren't just for the rich and famous like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Nowadays, even people of modest means are realizing the great benefits trust and foundations can provide. Read on to see if you can, too.

There are many different kinds of trusts and foundations, but they all share a common element--control. Using them, you can control what happens to your assets while you are alive, in the event of incapacity and for generations to come.

For instance, a trust is highly recommended if you and your spouse each have children from a previous marriage and you want to avoid any conflict when one of you passes away or becomes incapacitated. A trust can be just the thing if you are concerned about a child losing their inheritance in a divorce. And in today's litigious society, trusts can be used to shield assets from lawsuits. A trust can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be.

Foundations have many similarities to a trust. The main difference, though, is that foundations are designed specifically for charitable, religious, educational, scientific or literary purposes. Like a trust, a foundation allows you to control how the assets are invested, who they are distributed to and when. Plus, there are tax benefits for transferring assets into a foundation that aren't available with most trusts.

If you expect to leave several hundred thousands of dollars in assets to charity, a foundation may be right for you. That's especially true if you want the assets invested and each year's earnings distributed to a special cause.

There's more involved in setting up a foundation as compared to a trust. They also require more work. Accurate records must be kept and informational tax returns must be filed. For those with much smaller contributions, it may be easier to donate the money or assets to an existing organization as opposed to forming your own.

But it may be easier to donate a significant amount than you think. You might have a life insurance policy that you've had for years that you no longer need. Instead of canceling it, you can name your foundation as the beneficiary. If fact, life insurance is a great way to not only provide the initial funding for a foundation, but also to help it increase in size over time.

I mentioned tax incentives. Appreciated assets like real estate or stocks can be transferred into a foundation (and certain charitable trusts). That way capital gains taxes don't have to be paid and you still get a tax deduction for the contribution. The result is that your charity receives more money than if you sold the asset, paid the taxes and donated the remainder.

There are different versions of charitable trusts. Some allow you to donate an appreciated asset, get a tax deduction, and receive an income stream for life. When you die the remainder can be used by your favorite charity. Another version is similar but the charity receives the income stream during your life and your heirs receive the remainder at your death. This can be beneficial if you have investment property that has greatly appreciated, you need income and you don't want to pay all the taxes.

In can cost thousands of dollars to set up a trust that allows you to avoid probate and protect your child's inheritance from a lawsuit. Foundations can be even more expensive. But they don't have to be.

If you are comfortable doing research on your own and are willing to take the time, you can set up a trust and/or foundation on your own very inexpensively. Legally, you can serve as your own attorney and draft your own estate documents. There are many sources that provide templates. If your situation is straightforward, all you have to do is fill in the blanks.

For those with more involved situations an experienced attorney is recommended. Even if you do it yourself, it's not a bad idea to have an attorney review it. Lastly, a trust does nothing for you unless you transfer assets into it. Don't forget that step or all your work will have been for naught.
About the Author
Nationally-syndicated financial columnist and Certified Financial Planner Jeffrey Voudrie provides personal, in-depth money management services and advice to select private clients throughout the USA. He will answer your financial questions FREE at http://www.guardingyourwealth.net/
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