Donor Advised Funds: Start planning your legacy now

January 31, 2017
Fiscus

What will happen to your money? It’s a question everyone must consider at some point—and any financial advisor will tell you—better sooner than later. It’s the question attorney Jerome M. Applebaum asked his friend the late Charles B. Fiscus when Charlie starting weighing various charitable causes and giving options for his estate plan.

Charlie was already a veteran philanthropist, literally: a veteran of World War II, he supported veterans’ causes and educational and medical organizations. As Charlie considered the good his estate could do, he wanted to be able to direct and manage his funds, then and in the future. He and Jerry found the perfect fit—a donor-advised fund.

A donor-advised fund is a great way to leave a legacy of service. The benefit for Charlie was that after establishing the fund, he retained advisory privileges over the assets and decision-making capabilities to transfer the funds to qualified charities.

Charlie passed on in 2014, but since then the Charles Brewer Fiscus Foundation has continued to distribute grants to the causes he cared about, providing a meaningful legacy for an extraordinary individual.

Charlie’s attitudes were shaped by his childhood in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. “He always wanted to take care of other people, rather than himself,” Jerry recalls. That included not only his brother and sister, nieces and nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews—several of whom he supported through college—but also neighbors and people who worked with him, from his auto mechanic to his housepainter. Short on funds, they’d find themselves with an impromptu grant from Charlie so they could pay their rent, buy gas or put food on the table for their kids. “He had no obligation to do that, but he felt he had a moral obligation,” Jerry explains.

Using his own savings and a rainy-day fund his mother gave him, Charlie built up holdings in real estate and motion picture joint ventures, among other investments. When Jerry met Charlie in 2004, he had no idea of the gentleman’s wealth— only that they both liked jazz and often went to the “Almost Vaudeville” show at the Unurban Coffee House in Santa Monica. “We got to be very good friends in a very short time,” Jerry says. “Charlie was smart, shrewd and a good judge of character.”
The two also discovered they shared many interests, from veterans’ care to medical research. When Charlie began to consider what to do with his money, it was natural that he’d involve Jerry, who now serves as the Fiscus Foundation’s sole advisor. In that capacity he oversees investments, seeks out grant possibilities and reviews grant submissions.

Jerry sees his role as a gift. After all, he gets to distribute grants to worthy causes. Providence Saint John’s Health Center is one of the fund’s four primary charities. Charlie came to know the Health Center through treatment, first for maladies resulting from his service during WWII and later for age-related conditions. “He was always treated very nicely, and he was grateful,” Jerry explains. The Health Center is, he adds, “a friendly place.” That’s high praise, considering hospitals can often be intimidating. Grants from Charlie’s fund have supported the Health Center’s No One Dies Alone and the Paula Kent Meehan Pawsitive Pets programs—which Charlie, himself a dog owner, would have appreciated— as well as cancer research, the Emergency Department and women’s health. There are many areas of need throughout the hospital. “I just look for what I think Charlie would feel is important,” Jerry says. “I’m here to see that things are done right, because that’s what Charlie wanted.”

For information on establishing a donor-advised fund in support of Saint John’s Health Center, please contact Tanya Lopez, director of planned giving, at 310-582-7095.


THE BASICS OF DONOR-ADVISED FUNDS:

A donor-advised fund is a philanthropic vehicle administered by a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization.

  • The donor establishes the fund with the help of a sponsoring nonprofit organization (it must be an IRS-qualified public charity) and then irrevocably transfers personal assets to it—cash, securities and stocks, real estate investments or other assets. Typically, establishing the fund takes less than a day. 
  • Additional contributions may be made at any time. 
  • The donor immediately receives the maximum IRS-allowed tax benefit for each charitable contribution to the fund. 
  • While the sponsoring nonprofit organization has legal control over the contributions, the donor or donor’s representative maintains advisory privileges over the investment and distribution of assets.