(Dow Jones) As more families decide to shrink the lifespan of their foundations, many are expanding the role of their financial advisors.
These advisors are not just helping families manage their foundations' investments for quicker dispersal, but also are helping them enlist younger generations sooner into their philanthropic activities.
In recent years, a small but growing number of family foundations have decided to establish a limited lifespan, typically of 15 to 20 years, instead of attempting to exist forever. This allows them to use their assets more quickly and have more impact in the causes they elect to support.
Traditionally, these foundations were a way to bind future generations of a family through involvement in its direction and charitable efforts. To an extent, the change is a recognition that children and grandchildren may not have the same goals.
"It's a strong desire not to control this from the grave," says financial advisor Susan R. Colpitts, CPA, a founding principal of Signature in Norfolk, Va. "They're going to teach their values by example. Whether the kids embrace them or not is a wonderful freedom."
"Forever is a very long time," she adds. "I think there is a lot more healthy skepticism about what forever is, because of the roller coaster we've been on the last 10 to 15 years."
A limited timespan means families who do want children involved in philanthropy need to get them committed more quickly, says Andrew M. Katzenstein, a partner in Proskauer's Personal Planning Department in the Los Angeles.
He says some clients ask him to facilitate family meetings or to talk with the children about giving, especially if the foundation is new. "I'll sit down with the kids and explain that, 'Your family has made a lot of money and wants to give back to the community,'" he says. He introduces them to tools that can be used to research charities and to help them determine how much impact a donation would make.
Katzenstein actually recommends to clients that they start involving children at "12, 13, 14" years of age, and to let them each research and direct a donation of, say, $10,000. Some families, he says, "get the teens involved as part of their Bar Mitzvah."
A 2008 survey of small foundations found that about 12% of family foundations planned to limit their lifespan, while another 25% had not ruled it out. Advisors are often the ones raising the idea, because families tend to be focused on the tax implications of the donation rather than the foundations' structure. Advisors also often suggest using a donor-advised fund as a simpler, less costly alternative.
Working out a philanthropic plan "is a useful process for everyone to go through, " says Matt Brady, head of Wealth Advisory, Barclays Wealth.
Colpitts cited the example of one couple that decided to have their foundation, which funds a variety of education and community projects, last only until their deaths, at which time any remaining assets would be donated to a local community foundation. The father, she says, told the children, "'We have our foundation and it gives us a great deal of satisfaction, and you may choose to do that.'"
All three children have since set up their own foundations, each with their own causes, she says.
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