Skip to content

Financial Planning Insights

Charitable Giving Designed to Enhance Non-Charitable Goals: Part V of VI and Understanding Testamentary Charitable Lead Trusts

By Joe Maier and Bob Schneider | Johnson Financial Group

6 minute read time


In the fifth part of a six-part series on charitable giving, Director of Wealth Strategy, Joe Maier, and Wealth Advisor, Bob Schneider, explore the role of charitable lead trusts in maximizing legacy wealth. In this article, you’ll be introduced to a new hypothetical family, the Joneses, who have decided to sell their business. Working with their financial planning team, the Joneses set out to accomplish their independence, legacy and philanthropy through a testamentary charitable lead trust.

This is the fifth part of a six-part series on charitable giving. The previous articles all focused on the Howards, a couple that had a charitable mission inspired by their son James’ childhood cancer. The Howards were prototypical charitable donors; their philanthropy was driven by a cause, and they used the tax code to enhance their impact.

In this article (and the next), we focus on another hypothetical family, the Joneses. Ed and Ruth Jones, age 60 and 56, own a manufacturing business in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Given the business’ long-term success, their focus on saving and their relatively frugal lifestyle, Ed and Ruth have amassed at $60 million net worth. Ed and Ruth have recently been approached by a buyer for their business, and have decided to sell.

Given the impact of their upcoming liquidity event, Ed and Ruth have scheduled time with their planning team to discuss how to use their wealth to accomplish their independence (their lifetime spending), their legacy (spending for their family after their passing) and philanthropy (for charitable pursuits) goals. Ed and Ruth explain to their planning team that their independence goals are fairly modest given their frugal lifestyle and they really have no burning charitable passions. Their main focus is on maximizing what is left to their four children and ten grandchildren.

And the Joneses despise taxes. When their planning digs into their priorities, the Joneses’ goals become very clear: maximize what is left to the family, but pay no taxes. In other words, for those assets that may be subject to estate taxes, if there is a choice between (1) leaving assets to family while paying a portion of that value in estate taxes or (2) leaving no assets to family and everything to charity to avoid paying any estate taxes, the Joneses would choose the latter.

As you can see, the Joneses’ priorities are distinct from the Howards’. The Howards were willing to forego assets being used for themselves and their family in order to accomplish their charitable mission. The Joneses are only willing to make charitable contributions to avoid taxes.

So how does a testamentary charitable lead trust accomplish the Joneses’ goals?

Understanding the Estate Tax and the Impact of Charitable Bequests

In 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act that, among other changes, raised the estate tax exemption to $10 million, a number that increases each year. In 2020, based on that indexing, the exemption is $11.58 million. So for couples like the Joneses, they can pass twice that amount, or $23.16 million to their children free of estate tax.

Under the financial plan created by the Joneses’ planning team, based on pretty conservative growth estimates—given the Joneses’ modest spending and relatively young age and based on normal life expectancy—the Joneses are expected to have a nearly $200 million net worth at the death of the survivor.

Presuming the exemption is not reduced and continues to grow by inflation, the plan assumes that the exemption will be $25 million at that time, and the Joneses will be able to leave $50 million to their family free of estate taxes. The remaining $150 million will be taxed at 40%, resulting in $60 million of estate taxes. In other words, with a “basic” estate plan that leaves everything to the survivor and then the children, of their $200 million, $140 million goes to the children; $60 million to the federal government.

The problem with the basic plan is it violates the Joneses’ stated goals. The Joneses dislike taxes so much that they would rather reduce what goes to their children to ensure they pay no estate taxes.

The most common plan to accomplish the Joneses’ goals is to leave an amount equal to twice the exemption ($50 million) to the children and leave the remaining $150 million to charity. Under the code, a bequest to a charity incurs no estate tax. So, on the surface, this plan accomplishes the Joneses’ stated goal of leaving as much as possible (the estate tax exemption) to the children while incurring no taxes. But is there a better way? Can we get more to the children while still paying no estate taxes?

Using a Testamentary Charitable Lead Trust (and Low Interest Rates) to Maximize Legacy Wealth

Instead of leaving the exemption to the children and the remainder to charity, the Joneses could create a formula wherein they would leave a property to a charitable lead trust (CLT) that would “zero out” the estate tax. The value of the amount left to charity would be largely dependent on the applicable federal rate (the “AFR”) at the time of the survivor’s death. In essence, here’s how a CLT works: the larger the differential between the actual growth rate of the assets and the AFR, the more wealth that is diverted estate tax free from the charity to the Joneses’ family.


The AFR is used to determine the stream of annuity payments going to the charity that would have a present value equal to the amount of the gift ($150,000,000). This is important to ensure that no gift or estate tax is due.

For example, in our current extremely low interest rate environment, the long term AFR in September of 2020 is one percent (1%). If a 15-year CLT is put in place, annual payments of $10,818,567 will be made to the charity. The charity receives $162,278,505 over the 15 years. If the assets in the CLT grow at 6%, $107,671,089 will be remaining and will go to the Jones children gift- and estate-tax free.

The portion of the wealth that will go to the children will be considerably more than either of the above examples wherein the tax is paid or all of the Joneses assets above the exemption pass to charity. And the charity will end up with a material gift as well. In essence, a testamentary CLT funded in a low interest environment allows clients like the Joneses to give more (to charity) to get more (to their children).


A testamentary CLT is a powerful tool, particularly in a low interest rate environment to “use” the tax code to move estate tax dollars out of the coffers of the federal government and into the hands of family and charity. It truly does allow clients like the Joneses to give more to get more. In our next and final article, we will explore how the use of a charitable remainder trust allows for similar optimization of income taxes to accomplish similar results.


Joe Maier

Joe Maier

SVP Director Wealth Strategy JD, CPA | Johnson Financial Group

Joe has extensive experience helping high‐net worth individuals, family offices, business owners and corporate executives meet their wealth and legacy goals. His areas of specific interest and skill include business succession planning, financial and estate planning, and wealth transfer strategies.

Bob Schneider

Bob Schneider

SVP Wealth Advisor CFP, RICP® | Johnson Financial Group

Bob Schneider specializes in providing clients with the educational information and tools necessary to make informed decisions regarding their financial planning goals. He uses his financial planning experience to help individuals and families plan for and enjoy their retirement years.

Charitable Giving Series

icon-swipe Swipe Right
Us dollars wrapped in bow

Start with “Why”: Choosing the Right Approach to Charitable Giving

Given the significant interest in philanthropy, it’s no surprise that the internet has plenty of questionable material on the subject—advising and educating (and often advocating) about direct giving vs. donor-advised funds vs. private foundations. These articles focus on the how, including costs, control, tax benefits, ongoing burden and legacy.

READ MORE about choosing the right approach for charitable giving.
hand holding money present

Direct Giving: Choosing the Right Charitable Giving Approach

This article continues our six-part series on charitable giving. In the first installment , we explained the importance of establishing the why before focusing on the how. Now, we’ll take our first step into the how, with a discussion on the simplest method: direct giving.

READ MORE about direct giving to a charitable cause.
three sets of hands holding heart

Using Donor Advised Funds to Make a Philanthropic Impact

This is the third article in a six-part series on charitable giving. In this article we explore when a charitable mission is best met by contributing to a donor advised fund.

READ MORE more about using donor advised funds to make a philanthropic impact.
elderly man and little girl holding up heart frame

Using Private Foundations to Build a Family Culture of Philanthropy

This is part four of our six-part series on charitable giving. In this article, we focus on why people use private foundations to execute their charitable mission.

READ MORE about Using Private Foundations to Build a Family Culture of Philanthropy.
granddaughter hugging grandmother from behind

Charitable Giving Designed to Enhance Non-Charitable Goals: Understanding Testamentary Charitable Lead Trusts

This is the fifth part of a six-part series on charitable giving. The previous articles all focused on the Howards, a couple that had a charitable mission inspired by their son James’ childhood cancer. The Howards were prototypical charitable donors; their philanthropy was driven by a cause, and they used the tax code to enhance their impact.

READ MORE about Understanding Testamentary Charitable Lead Trusts
three generations taking selfie

Using Charitable Remainder Trusts to Defer Taxes and Maximize Wealth

This is the sixth and final part of our charitable giving series. In our last article, we met the Joneses, a successful couple with a significant net worth. Their priorities are exclusively focused on legacy. However, they have such a disdain for paying taxes, they are willing to adjust their goals to avoid tax.

READ MORE Using Charitable Remainder Trusts to Defer Taxes and Maximize Wealth