As the new year begins, many of us take stock of our past and plan for the future. As a business owner, it can be easy to get caught up in daily tasks and neglect long-term planning for your its succession. However, it's essential to consider the impact and legacy you want your business to have in the future. If you want to make a positive difference for future generations, consider using a new, lesser-known planning tool called the purpose trust.
A traditional trust is a legal agreement between three parties: the grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. The grantor funds the trust with financial or property assets, and the trustee manages these assets according to the terms of the trust, for the benefit of designated beneficiaries. A charitable trust is an exception, as it is created for a charitable purpose but does not have specifically designated beneficiaries. Recently, some states have introduced the concept of noncharitable purpose trusts, also known as purpose trusts.
These trusts can be established for most lawful purposes, as long as they are reasonable and do not violate public policy. However, in some states, they can only be used for specific purposes such as pet care or grave site maintenance. To ensure that the trustee carries out the grantor's stated purpose, the grantor must appoint an independent “enforcer” who can petition the court if duties outlined in the trust are not performed. A trust protector can also be appointed to modify the trust if necessary, for example, to add beneficiaries or modify the jurisdiction where the trust is effective. The goal of a purpose trust is not primarily to minimize taxes or transfer wealth efficiently (though this can be achieved), but to ensure that the grantor's purpose is fulfilled.
You’ve likely heard of, or own clothing from the company, Patagonia. In September 2022, Yvon Chouinard, the the company’s founder, transferred the voting stock of the $3 billion outfitter to a purpose trust to extend his mission of fighting the planet’s environmental crisis. In an excerpt on the Patagonia website, he stated that the company's continued purpose is to "save our home planet." After finding out his children did not have a desire to take over the family business, Chouinard decided not to sell the company, as he worried a new owner might have different values and his employees would not retain job security.
The Patagonia Purpose Trust, guided by the family and advisors, took over the voting stock of the company to ensure that its values were upheld and profits were used for their environmental protection goals. A 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization was also set up to transfer the nonvoting stock into. The nonprofit will be funded by Patagonia’s dividends, amounting to an estimated $100 million a year, for environmental protection efforts. The business interests were not donated to a charity, so they will encounter an estimated $17.5 million in gift tax, and no charitable deduction will be available to Chouinard. However, he effectively avoided $700 million in capital gains taxes and substantial estate tax liability upon his death.
A purpose trust can be a viable option for business succession planning if you own a profitable company and want to keep its mission alive. Similar to the Chouinard family, you can ensure that your company's values and mission continue to be upheld for many years to come, and that your employees have job security. This is particularly useful if you do not have children who are interested in running the business or if your children do not share your values. The terms of a purpose trust can ensure that future management adheres to the trust's purpose, and also ensures that the company remains private and that values remain a priority over profit.
From a business standpoint, what are your goals for the future? If you're interested in using your wealth for the benefit of a cause you’re passionate about, you might want to look into a purpose trust. Contact the team at Anderson, Dorn & Rader to see if this planning option is suitable for you.