Charitable Lead Unitrust

Make a substantial gift to Robin Hood in the form of annual payments and pass assets to your family or other heirs at reduced tax cost. 

The payment to Robin Hood is a percentage of the value of the trust each year.

A charitable lead unitrust may be right for you if:

  • You have substantial assets not needed for your own financial security.
  • You want to provide for your family or other heirs.
  • You want to save gift taxes, estate taxes and probate costs.
  • You want your gift to make a difference at Robin Hood starting immediately.
  • You could consider a gift of $250,000 or more to benefit Robin Hood and your heirs.
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Separate trust

A charitable lead unitrust is a separate taxable trust governed by an irrevocable trust agreement. You choose the trustee who is responsible for administering your lead trust and guiding the investment of its assets.

Irrevocable gift

A charitable lead unitrust is an irrevocable arrangement. Once you transfer assets to create the trust, you cannot change your mind and get the assets back. This requirement assures that all payments promised in the trust agreement will go to support Robin Hood.

Make payments to Robin Hood that may vary each year

Your lead unitrust makes payments to Robin Hood each year equal to a fixed percentage of its value, as revalued annually. If the value of your lead unitrust increases, its annual payments will increase. If the value of your lead unitrust decreases, its annual payments will also decrease. Your lead trust can make payments to more than one charity if you wish.

You choose the payment rate

You choose the percentage of value that your lead unitrust must distribute to Robin Hood each year. Lead unitrust donors typically select a payment amount that is likely to preserve a substantial remainder for family or other heirs. Payments are usually made in annual installments, but semiannual or quarterly installments are possible. 

Remaining assets to heirs

When your charitable lead unitrust ends, all remaining principal in the trust will be transferred to family members or other heirs you choose.

How long can my lead trust last?

While most lead unitrusts last for 10-20 years, other terms are possible. Your lead unitrust can last for one or more lives, for a specific length of time or for a combination of lives and years. The term length you choose will depend on when you want your heirs to receive their trust distribution, as well as other factors.

Tax benefits

  • Reduce or eliminate gift tax on initial gift if your gift exceeds the then-applicable gift tax credit.
  • Avoid all gift and estate tax on asset growth.

When you transfer assets to your lead unitrust, you make a taxable gift to the individuals who will receive your trust's principal when it ends. However, your gift of payments to Robin Hood earns you a charitable deduction in the year of your gift that will reduce your taxable gift. In addition, the assets in your lead unitrust are removed from your taxable estate. This means that any growth in the value of your trust's assets during its term can be passed on to your heirs completely free of gift and estate taxes.

Taxation of the trust

A lead unitrust is a taxable trust. However, a lead trust pays income tax only if its income exceeds the amount it pays to Robin Hood during the year. A careful trustee can balance your lead unitrust's income against its charitable payments to minimize its income taxes.

Lead unitrusts for grandchildren

Lead trusts for the benefit of grandchildren present special tax planning challenges related to a tax called the generation-skipping tax. Many donors choose to create a charitable lead unitrust in this particular situation, as it is easier to plan for generation-skipping tax issues when creating a lead unitrust than it is when creating a lead annuity trust. Please be sure to talk to your advisers or us about these tax considerations.

Suitable funding assets

You can fund your lead unitrust with various kinds of assets. All of the following assets can work well:

  • Cash
  • Securities
  • A closely-held business
  • Commercial property
  • A combination of these assets

Assets that you expect to increase substantially in value over time can be especially attractive candidates for transfer into a lead trust.

Unlike with many other planned gifts, it can be problematic to fund a lead unitrust with highly appreciated property. Since a lead unitrust is fully taxable, selling a highly appreciated asset may cause the trust to owe taxes that will deplete its principal. Again, you will want to work closely with your advisers to pick an asset or combination of assets that will best achieve your goals for your gift.


Carolina Rodriguez, 60, is financially secure. Carolina has been wanting to make a leadership gift to Robin Hood for some time but has hesitated to part with her assets because she’d like to provide for her two young grandchildren when they’re older.

Carolina is delighted to learn that funding a charitable lead unitrust offers an excellent way to provide generous support to Robin Hood and pass assets to her young grandchildren.

Carolina chooses to create a $1,000,000 trust that will pay 6% of its value, as revalued annually, to Robin Hood each year for 25 years. By making the trust term 25 years long, Carolina delays transferring assets to her grandchildren until they are in their early 30s. By then, she expects them to be mature enough to handle their assets responsibly.

Benefits in this example:

  • Carolina’s grandchildren will split approximately $1,282,432* when the trust ends.
  • The assets Carolina uses to fund the trust will not be taxed in her estate.
  • Robin Hood will receive annual payments from the trust that will increase from $60,000 to $76,184* over 25 years.
  • Carolina will receive a gift tax charitable deduction of $768,322**.

* Assumes the trust assets earn a 7% annual net return.
charitable deduction may vary depending on the timing of her gift.