Charitable Lead Unitrust

The "Shark Fin" Lead Trust

We have responded to many more client inquiries about charitable lead trusts over the past two years than any other two year period in our 25-year history.  We have also noticed a flurry of articles on lead trusts during this same period.

A particular lead trust variation that has received considerable attention lately is what some practitioners are calling the "Shark Fin" lead trust. You may have also seen the term "Balloon" lead trust mentioned.  Two names, same trust.

Pre-1969 Trust

The modern forms of planned gifts were defined in tax legislation passed in 1969. This legislation created the charitable remainder trust, the charitable lead trust, and the pooled income fund forms that we know today. Prior to this legislation, the tax law governing charitable gifts was generally less restrictive.

Grantor Retained Unitrust (GRUT)

A grantor retained unitrust (GRUT) is a form of irrevocable non-charitable trust. During its term, the trust makes payments to the donor of the trust (the grantor) that are equal to a fixed percentage of the trust's value, as determined on a specified day of the year. When the trust terminates, its remaining principal passes to remainder beneficiaries named by the grantor, typically children or grandchildren.

Grantor Lead Trust

A grantor lead trust is a form of charitable lead trust in which the donor of the trust is considered the owner of the trust's assets for tax purposes. The most common reason for a charitable lead trust being treated as a grantor trust is that the donor of the trust will receive the trust principal when the trust terminates.

Generation Skipping Transfer Tax

Generation skipping transfer tax is a federal transfer tax that is assessed on an individual who transfers assets to a "skip person" during life or by will. This tax is assessed in addition to gift or estate tax. Its purpose is to prevent donors from avoiding transfer taxation in one generation by giving assets directly to the next generation.

Remainder Interest

A charity's remainder interest in a planned gift equals the present value of the promise to distribute the remaining principal of the planned gift when it terminates.

In the case of life income gifts, such as a gift annuity or a charitable remainder unitrust, the charity owns the remainder interest in the gift.  In the case of a lead trust, individuals named by the donor own the remainder interest in the gift.

Remainder Factor

The remainder factor is the fraction of the funding amount of a planned gift that is considered a charitable contribution, expressed as a decimal. The remainder factor multiplied by the funding amount equals the value of the charitable contribution.

For example, if the remainder factor for a charitable remainder unitrust is .24561 and the unitrust is funded with $100,000, the value of the charitable contribution is .24561 x $100,000 or $24,561.

Non-Grantor Lead Trust

The non-grantor lead trust is the most common form of charitable lead trust. During the trust term, typically a fixed number of years, the trust makes payments to one or more charities. When the trust terminates, it distributes its remaining principal to individuals named by the donor, typically family members. A non-grantor lead trust is treated as an independent taxable entity that is responsible for all of its own taxes and accounting. It pays tax on income, including realized capital gain income, that is in excess of its charitable payments.

Charitable Lead Unitrust - Non-Grantor

A non-grantor charitable lead unitrust is a gift plan defined by federal tax law that allows an individual to transfer assets to family members at reduced tax cost while making a generous gift to a charity. The donor irrevocably transfers assets, usually cash or securities, to a trustee of her choice, such as a bank trust department. The donor receives a gift tax deduction equal to the value of the income stream promised to the charity. Unlike income tax deductions, gift tax deductions are not subject to IRS limitations.