Generosity That Lasts: Setting Up Charitable Remainder Trusts

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Generosity That Lasts: Setting Up Charitable Remainder Trusts

Key Takeaways

  • Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs) let you support your favourite charity while receiving an income for life or a set period.
  • CRTs provide significant tax benefits, including income tax deductions and potential capital gains tax avoidance.
  • Setting up a CRT involves a few clear steps, from choosing trustees to transferring assets.
  • Proper management of your CRT ensures it aligns with your charitable goals and financial needs.
  • After the income beneficiaries’ terms end, the remaining assets go to the chosen charity, creating a lasting legacy.

What is a Charitable Remainder Trust?

Imagine you could give a generous gift to a cause close to your heart and still receive a paycheck every year for the rest of your life. That’s exactly what a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) can do. It’s a way to make a meaningful donation without giving up the financial benefits of your assets right away.

The basics of Charitable Remainder Trusts

At its core, a CRT is a legal document that you create to provide for yourself, your loved ones, and your favourite charity. You place cash, stocks, or property into the trust. In return, the trust pays you or your chosen beneficiaries a steady income for life or a set number of years. Once that period is over, whatever’s left in the trust goes to the charity you’ve chosen.

Because the trust is designed to eventually benefit a charity, it’s a ‘remainder’ trust – the charity gets the remainder of the funds after the initial beneficiary period. And since you can’t take back what you put in, these trusts are ‘irrevocable’. This might sound a bit scary, but it’s part of what gives a CRT its tax-saving superpowers.

The role of Charitable Remainder Trusts in estate planning

When it comes to planning your estate, a CRT serves as a two-pronged approach. It helps reduce your taxable estate, potentially lowering estate taxes when you pass on. Plus, it supports the causes you care about, leaving a legacy that reflects your values and generosity.

Why Choose a Charitable Remainder Trust?

Choosing a CRT isn’t just about the feel-good factor. It’s a strategic financial move that can benefit you now and in the future. Let’s dive into some of the reasons why a CRT might be a smart choice for you.

Income for life – a win-win scenario

One of the biggest draws of a CRT is the promise of income. You can set up the trust to pay you a fixed amount each year, known as an annuity, or a percentage of the trust’s assets, which is revalued annually. This is particularly appealing if you’re looking for a supplemental income during retirement.

And here’s the cherry on top: you’re not just receiving income, you’re doing good with your money at the same time. It’s a win-win situation that gives you financial security and the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a difference.

Tax benefits explained simply

The tax benefits of a CRT are nothing to sneeze at. When you transfer assets into a CRT, you can claim a charitable income tax deduction. This isn’t a dollar-for-dollar deduction, but it’s based on the estimated present value of the remainder interest that will eventually go to the charity.

  • You may avoid immediate capital gains tax on appreciated assets you donate.
  • By reducing your taxable income with the deduction, you could potentially lower your overall tax bracket.
  • The assets in the trust grow tax-free, which can lead to a higher payout for you and more funds for the charity in the long run.

Keep in mind, these tax benefits depend on various factors, including the type of CRT you choose, the terms of the trust, and current tax laws.

2. Deciding the trust’s terms

Deciding the terms of your Charitable Remainder Trust is like setting the rules for a game where everyone wins. You’ll need to determine how much the trust will pay out each year and for how long. There are two main types of CRTs:

  • Annuity Trusts: These pay a fixed dollar amount each year, which is great if you like predictability.
  • Unitrusts: These pay a fixed percentage of the trust’s assets, recalculated annually, so your payments can vary with the value of the trust.

Think about your financial needs and your goals for the trust. Remember, once you set these terms, they’re set in stone because the trust is irrevocable.

3. Transferring assets into the trust

Now comes the part where you move your assets into the trust. This could be stocks, property, or cash – anything of value. But here’s a tip: if you have appreciated assets like stocks or real estate, they’re often the best choice. Why? Because when the trust sells them, there’s no immediate capital gains tax, which means more money stays in the trust to grow and pay you income. For more information on optimising income planning with property trusts, consider reading about property trusts for retirement.

Transferring assets might sound complex, but it’s mostly about paperwork. You’ll sign over the assets to the trust, and then the trust is responsible for managing them. It’s important to get this right, so working with a professional here is a smart move.

Once the assets are in the trust, they’re out of your hands. They now belong to the trust, and the trustee will manage them according to the terms you’ve set.

4. Choosing the right charity

Choosing the charity that will benefit from your CRT is a deeply personal decision. It should be an organisation whose mission aligns with your values and one that you believe will use the funds wisely. Do your homework – look at their financials, their impact, and their reputation.

Most importantly, talk to them. Make sure they understand the potential gift and are capable of using it in the way you intend. Once you’ve made your decision, you can rest easy knowing that your legacy will be in good hands.

Making the Most of Your Trust

Setting up your CRT is just the beginning. To make the most of it, you need to manage it effectively. This means regular check-ins with your trustee, staying informed about how your assets are performing, and understanding how payouts are calculated.

Because a CRT is irrevocable, you can’t change the terms once it’s set up. But you can change the trustee if needed. Choose someone you trust, and who understands your financial and philanthropic goals.

Also, keep an eye on the charity you’ve chosen. If it changes its mission or has a scandal, you can’t change the ultimate beneficiary of the CRT, but you can create a new CRT for other charities if you wish.

  • Review your trust’s performance annually.
  • Communicate regularly with your trustee to ensure your trust is being managed in line with your goals.
  • Stay up-to-date on tax laws that may affect your trust.

Managing the trust for long-term success

Long-term success with a CRT means balancing your financial needs with the growth of the trust. Your trustee should be someone who understands this balance and can manage the assets to provide for you now and the charity later. It’s about growing the pie so that everyone gets a larger slice.

Regular meetings with your financial advisor and trustee will help keep your trust on track. Together, you’ll ensure that the trust’s investments are aligned with your income needs and charitable goals.

Adapting to changes in your life or the economy

While the terms of your CRT are fixed, life is anything but predictable. Economic downturns, changes in the stock market, or personal circumstances can affect the value of your trust and the income it generates.

That’s why it’s important to have a trustee who can navigate these changes and adjust the trust’s investment strategy accordingly. This proactive management can help ensure that your trust continues to provide for you and your charity, no matter what life throws your way.

1. Determine Your GoalsDecide if you want to provide income for yourself, your spouse, or other beneficiaries, and which charities you want to support.
2. Choose Trust TypeSelect either a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (fixed annual payments) or a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (variable annual payments based on trust value).
3. Fund the TrustTransfer cash, appreciated assets like stocks or real estate, or other assets to the trust. The trust sells the assets tax-free.
4. Receive Income PaymentsThe trustee manages the assets and pays you or your beneficiaries the income stream for life or a term of up to 20 years.
5. Claim Tax BenefitsYou receive an immediate income tax deduction for the present value of the remainder interest going to charity. Assets are removed from your taxable estate.
Setting Up Charitable Remainder Trusts

Leveraging Charitable Remainder Trusts for Larger Impact

Now, let’s think bigger. A CRT is powerful on its own, but it can be part of a larger philanthropic strategy. For instance, you might combine it with a donor-advised fund or a private foundation to increase your charitable impact.

By funneling some of your CRT income into another charitable vehicle, you can support multiple causes, involve your family in philanthropy, and create a more diversified charitable legacy.

Another option is to use life insurance to replace the value of the assets you put into the CRT, ensuring that your heirs also benefit from your estate.

Combining trusts with other charitable strategies

Combining a CRT with other giving strategies can amplify your impact and provide even more benefits. Here are a couple of ways you can do this:

  • Use a portion of the income from the CRT to fund a donor-advised fund, which allows you to recommend grants to charities over time.
  • Set up a private foundation for larger, more structured philanthropic efforts, and use CRT assets to fund it.

By strategically using a CRT in conjunction with other giving tools, you can create a philanthropic plan that not only meets your financial needs but also leaves a lasting imprint on the causes you care about.

Combining a CRT with other giving strategies, such as estate planning with charitable trusts, can amplify your impact and provide even more benefits. Here are a couple of ways you can do this:

  • Use a portion of the income from the CRT to fund a donor-advised fund, which allows you to recommend grants to charities over time.
  • Set up a private foundation for larger, more structured philanthropic efforts, and use CRT assets to fund it.

By strategically using a CRT in conjunction with other giving tools, you can create a philanthropic plan that not only meets your financial needs but also leaves a lasting imprint on the causes you care about.

Case studies: Real-world impacts of Charitable Remainder Trusts

Let’s look at an example. Susan, a retired teacher, set up a CRT with her collection of rare books. She receives a steady income that supplements her pension, and her favorite literacy charity will receive a significant donation that can fund reading programs for years to come.

In another case, James, a lifelong environmentalist, funded a CRT with appreciated land. His annual income helps him travel and enjoy his retirement, while the remainder will go towards preserving natural habitats.

These stories show that CRTs are more than just financial tools; they’re pathways to creating personal, lasting change in the world.


What happens to the trust after the income beneficiaries pass away?

After the income beneficiaries pass away, the remaining assets in the trust are transferred to the designated charity. This is when your legacy truly takes shape, as the funds are used to support the charitable work you believe in.

Can the trust be changed once it’s set up?

No, a Charitable Remainder Trust is irrevocable, which means once it’s established, its terms cannot be altered. This is why careful planning and consideration are crucial before setting up the trust.

How does a Charitable Remainder Trust impact inheritance for my heirs?

A CRT can reduce the size of your estate, potentially lowering inheritance taxes. However, you can use life insurance or other estate planning tools to provide for your heirs, balancing your philanthropic goals with family needs.

What types of assets can be placed into a Charitable Remainder Trust?

You can place various types of assets into a CRT, including cash, stocks, real estate, and other valuable property. The key is to choose assets that will further the trust’s income-generating potential and your charitable objectives.

Are there any situations where a Charitable Remainder Trust is not advisable?

While CRTs offer many benefits, they might not be suitable for everyone. If you need full access to your assets or you’re unsure about committing to a long-term philanthropic plan, a CRT might not align with your current needs or goals.