One of the big charitable and estate planning stories from 2015 involved Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he was donating 99% of his Facebook stock to charity, worth perhaps as much as $44 billion.
What followed were articles on how creative Mark was for using an LLC as the recipient of the stock. But an LLC is nothing new and nothing creative. The LLC entity allowed him to retain control over his stock without the restrictions and compliance associated with a private foundation. The LLC also means Zuckerberg did not obtain tax deductions in 2015 because his stock was not actually donated to charity. Thus, as of now, Zuckerberg has not made a charitable contribution of $44 million – what he did was pledge to donate to charity. In short, there was a lot of news and discussion about his charitable intent but nothing has materially changed. Zuckerberg remains free to do as he wishes with his stock, which according to his intent will someday be used for charitable causes.
Even more surprising than the publicity over an intention to make a future donation, were those who criticized Zuckerberg for (someday) taking advantage of the charitable tax law to avoid income and estate taxes. True, if and when Zuckerberg does sell or donate his stock to charity, he will receive income tax advantages and avoid estate tax. Good for him. And really good for the rest of us. That is the way the law should be. Let us all be thankful for Zuckerberg’s generosity in using his wealth to address challenges that the government is ill equipped or unable to address.