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More Thinking Outside the Box

March 27th, 2012 at 08:25 pm

OK, so I'm just gonna toss this idea and see what kind of feedback I get about it.

It's just another way of thinking about retirement income, or establishing a stream of income for myself now or later. I probably won't be rushing out to do it today, but it's something to think about, maybe, down the road.

Who out there is familiar with charitable remainder trusts or charitable gift annuities?

Here's what I'm thinking:

First, you should know I really have no heirs. Neither my sister nor I have children. I have two half-brothers, about 10 years younger than my sister and I, but we never see each other and we're not really a part of each others' lives, although my one brother did recently have a child. But they're not lacking for money. He does pretty well.

So I've already named a smattering of charitable groups as beneficiaries in my various mutual fund investments. As you may know, should you die, whom you name as beneficiaries in your investments supersedes whoever you may name as beneficiary in your will, should they conflict.

Right now my will does name my parents and three siblings as beneficiaries, but because my investments name various charitable groups, the only thing my family would get is my home and material possessions. And I'm thinking of changing that.

I think it's safe to guess I'll outlive my parents. I would want to leave assets to them both, but I think I'll be around longer than they will. (My mother could really use some help, but my father doesn't need my money and so if I did leave him money and then he passed, my assets would end up with my two brothers with whom, like I said, I don't have much of a relationship with.

So I'm thinking I might like to do something different with my house. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the way a reverse mortgage works. You get lifetime possession and when you die, the house goes to the bank. You also get a stream of income, which gradually sucks the equity out of your home. Your heirs don't get anything.

While I'm not especially enamored of reverse mortgages, due to their very high fees, I am thinking about something that seems to work very similarly to them, namely a charitable remainder trust or charitable gift annuity.

I know a teensy bit about charitable remainder trusts because I used to write sales literature for a CRT that my employer offered way back when, over 10 years ago now.

I don't know enough, but I'm thinking I could give my house to the Nature Conservancy and retain lifetime possession. When I die, they get the house. I'm fine with that. (They would of course sell the house and use the proceeds toward some good.) While I'm alive, I get an annuitized stream of income and tax benefits in the form of a deduction. (Not sure what kind of deduction nor how much.)

It appeals to me because I like the idea of leaving my assets to the Nature Conservancy (and some other groups). I like the idea of getting my home, an illiquid asset, to generate an income stream to supplement my retirement. Look at it this way: the house would otherwise represent a huge portion of my net worth that's all locked up and inaccessible to me and really would just serve as a place for me to live. Why not put it to work for me instead and do some good with it at the same time?

Of course, I'd have to think very, very carefully about doing this, because a CRT is irrevocable, meaning that once you decide to do it, you CANNOT undo it. So I'd have to make damn sure that I didn't want to move to a nice little maintenance-free condo somewhere and that I was committed to aging in place.

I happened to get my Nature Conservancy magazine in the mail today and according to their little chart, a $10,000 gift to them at age 60 would generate $440 annually and a $2,231 tax deduction. My home is worth about $290K now, so if I gifted my home, the annual income should be about $13,200 annually, or $1100 a month, if i figured that right.

I'm not at all sure I have that mindset now, hence my certainty that I'm not going to do anything right away. I suppose if all I was looking for was a little extra retirement income, I could simply sell this house when the market recovers, buy a little condo and free up some substantial cash from the sale of the house in the process.

Just thinking outside the box.

Dido, MM, what do you think? Am I overlooking something big, because all this sounds pretty good to me.

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