Floridian's dreams of charity gifting need estate planning

Reasons for setting up trusts through estate planning can run the gamut. Perhaps the goal is to make sure heirs are provided for. Perhaps it's to create a legacy that remembers its founder into the future. Maybe the reason to create a trust is to fund a set of foundations that just do good; anonymously.

Whatever the reason Florida readers of this blog may have, the one thing they all have in common is that to best achieve their goals requires solid estate planning with the help of an experienced legal professional.

You can be sure that Charles F. Feeney had that kind of help. What, you don't know Charles F. Feeney. Don't feel bad, few people did until 1997, even though the Atlantic Philanthropies group of foundations that he founded in 1982 has been the channel through which some $6 billion has flowed in support of medical care, immigration reform, education, social and political reform and international peace initiatives.

Feeney, a low-visibility tycoon who made his money in the liquor business with duty-free shops around the world, is now 81. As he enters into what he may consider to be his twilight years, he has announced his intention to close down his charitable administration group by getting rid of the last $1.5 billion in its coffers by 2016.

Why, you might ask, is he doing this? Well, while he lives modestly in New York City, Feeney has obviously done fine for himself, so it's time. He's provided decently, but not overgenerously, for his four daughters and one son. And, in his words, "When you've got the money, you spend it. When you've spent it all, let someone else get going and spend theirs."

That seems to be the ultimate goal of Feeney's overall estate plan. And it may be working. Mega-tycoon Warren Buffett calls Feeney the "spiritual leader" behind what has become Buffett's own outspoken challenge to the world's wealthy to step up their charitable efforts across the board.

The reality is that most of us in Florida don't have the assets available to do what Feeney, Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates do in terms of giving. But modest efforts throughout one's life always generate more of value than we might think. Estate planning is the way to be sure it goes as far as possible.

Source: The New York Times, "Philanthropist Wants to Be Rid of His Last $1.5 billion," Jim Dwyer, Aug. 7, 2012

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