Column: Setting up a foundation is easier than you think

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 11, 2007

By Paul Overgaard, Guest Column

This is the season when we began thinking seriously about charitable gifts that will help our less-fortunate neighbors and friends. Oftentimes we are nudged along by the realization that if we make our gifts before Dec. 31 we can take a tax deduction for the gift. There are countless good causes right here in our county, and in my opinion nearly all are operated with very low overhead expense, so nearly 100 percent of our gift gets to the person in need.

Some of my favorites are the United Way of Freeborn County, Albert Lea Family Y, Freeborn County Communities Foundation, churches, Youth For Christ, Freeborn County Historical Museum, Naeve Health Care Foundation, Salvation Army, and, of course, you have your own favorites.

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Annual gifts to a favorite charity is something almost all of us do. Americans are just plain generous. Needs are especially urgent at this time of year at our community food shelves. Three that I am aware of are the Alden Area Food Pantry, the Ecumenical Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church and the Salvation Army Food Shelf. A cash gift to any one of these is probably the most effective way to help as Christmas approaches.

Legacy giving is another matter, however. While more than 90 percent of Minnesotans make regular gifts to one or more charities during their lifetime only about 10 percent of us leave a legacy gift. I think part of the reason is that most of us think that&8217;s something only rich folks do, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Part of the reason we don&8217;t do it may be that it seems too complicated and it does take some planning. Well, it is not complicated anymore, and you don&8217;t have to be rich to start your own family foundation.

Thanks to the Minnesota Foundation you can establish your own family foundation with as little as $10,000. No lengthy legal forms are required, and it can all be done in a few hours. Now here&8217;s the neat part: You can determine where payments from your foundation go, whether to just one charity or to several, and you can change amounts and recipient each year.

You remain in complete control as to where your gifts go, and furthermore you can name your children as advisers to the foundation when you are not able to continue in that capacity. If you like the experience you have with your foundation you can make additional gifts in any amount and at any time. Of course, every gift to your foundation qualifies for a tax deduction in the year you make the gift, even though distributions to the charities you choose to benefit are not made until later years. Gifts to a family foundation can be made in the form of cash, stock or even real estate. The Minnesota Foundation can provide excellent planning and legal assistance for such gifts as residential property or farmland

My wife and I had the good fortune about five years ago to have an investment in a company that did very well. We decided giving some of those shares would be an excellent way to help some of our favorite charities. The problem was it was late in December, and it seemed there was not time to get it done before year end. The answer: a family foundation set up with the Minnesota Foundation.

A simple two-page document followed by electronic transfer of the shares from my broker to the Minnesota Foundation, all of which were accomplished in three days. We got a tax deduction for the gift and an added benefit was that we did not have to pay a capital gains tax on the increase in value of the shares. Our foundation is fairly small, but we have been very happy with the way it operates. We will almost certainly leave a legacy gift at our death so our favorite charities will continue to receive our support far into the future. Our children are named as successor advisers so we know our wishes will be carried out.

Other options might be to name the Freeborn County Communities Foundation as a successor adviser with provisions that benefits go to charities chosen by us. I should also mention that funds are managed as a part of the more than $800 million in the Minnesota Foundation. We feel that Albert Lea has been a wonderful place to live and raise a family, and we want to, in a small way, support the nonprofit organizations that help to give it the character that makes it great.

If you would like to learn more about this great idea, I would be glad to share our information with you or you can also contact a Minnesota Foundation gift planner.

Albert Lea resident Paul Overgaard is the chairman of the Albert Lea Area Communities Foundation advisory board.