A Closer Look at Charitable Trusts

A charitable trust is a financial account that allows you to donate money to a charity while receiving a tax benefit for you and your heirs. There are two major types of charitable trusts: charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) and charitable lead trusts (CLTs). Of these two types of trusts, CRTs are the most common. These types of trusts are usually funded with a minimum of $100,000. CRTs are attractive, because in addition to the income tax and estate tax deductions that are available, the donor of the trust also receives income from the trust for a specified period.

A CRT is a trust which allows for a specified distribution, which must occur at least annually, to one or more beneficiaries. At the very least, one of these beneficiaries must not be a charity. The trust is set up for life or for a term of years, with an irrevocable remainder interest to be held for the benefit of, or paid over to, charity.

CRTs are further broken down into two types: charitable remainder unitrusts (CRUTs) and charitable remainder annuity trusts (CRATs). Both are irrevocable trusts that pay out a portion of the value of the trust assets each year to a beneficiary chosen by the trust donor. The beneficiary can be the donor or his or her spouse. The difference in these trusts lies in the fact that the CRUT pays a fixed percentage of the value of its holdings, and the CRAT pays a fixed dollar amount.

Charitable lead trusts (CLTs) are different from CRTs in that they pay income to a qualified charity for a set number of years or for the lifetime of the individuals who establish the trust. At the end of the trust, the assets are returned to the donor, the spouse, children, or other specified individuals. A great benefit of a CLT is that if the trust earns more than it pays to the designated charitable beneficiary, those extra earnings will then pass on to the non-charitable beneficiaries without racking up additional estate or gift taxes.

If you or your spouse wishes to establish a charitable trust, you should contact an estate planning attorney, who can offer you guidance about which type of trust will be right for you and your family.

Bernard Krooks is a New York Elder Law and New York Estate Planning lawyer with offices in White Plains, Fishkill, and New York, New York. To learn more, visit Littmankrooks.com.

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