What’s a charitable remainder trust?

Simply defined, a charitable remainder trust allows you to transfer cash or assets to the trust — from which you may receive income for life or, if you prefer, a fixed term not to exceed 20 years. The income can be paid over your life, your spouse’s life and even the lives of your children and grandchildren. (The guidelines are outlined in IRS code section 664.) In essence, the trust takes advantage of the tax-exempt status of the nonprofit it benefits.

Sometimes, giving an asset to charity doesn’t mean you can no longer enjoy benefits from it. Yes, it’s true. And, the magical legal tool that affords this wonder is the “Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT).” Recently, Reuters cast another spotlight on this powerful tool with an eye to the future.

A CRT, as many of you may be aware, is a specific type of irrevocable trust set up to give an asset away to charity at the time of death, but to allow you to receive income from the asset for your lifetime, another’s lifetime or even a period of years. The CRT allows you to do good, receive an income, and avoid some hefty taxes. As Reuter’s puts it: “In essence, the trust takes advantage of the tax-exempt status of the nonprofit it benefits.”

The important thing about the CRT these days, at least as far as taxes are concerned, is the future. The returns on a CRT are similar to any investment in accordance with the market. And, with the market as it is, that’s not great. It follows then that the tax reduction might not be that great either. But many taxpayers are concerned about increased taxation in the future.

President Obama already has called for further taxation with the new idea of the so-called Buffet Rule, not to mention the closing of Bush-era tax cuts and stricter estate taxes. For as many in Congress as are calling for tax reduction there are those calling for tax increases… and the super-committee might be turning the latter direction. If the Bush-era tax cuts expire, and in particular if the capital gains tax rises back up to 24% instead of 15%, the CRT will be quite the advantageous machine.

In the end, a CRT is an irrevocable trust. It can’t be undone once it is created. More background and insights can be gleaned in the original article. Whether a CRT is right for you and your circumstances will require competent legal counsel. As always, look before you leap.

Reference: Reuters (Sepetember 30, 2011) “Charitable remainder trusts: how the wealthy give it away and get it back


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