Thursday, March 8, 2012
Forbes, Facebook Billionaires Shifted More Than $200 Million Gift-Tax Free, by Deborah Jacobs:
Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founders of Facebook and two of the world’s youngest billionaires, may seem too young to be thinking about estate planning. But in 2008, when they were both 24, they used an estate planning tool that is more familiar to people two or three times their age. It involved putting pre-IPO stock into a special kind of trust that will explode in value when the company goes public. In the process Zuckerberg and Moskovitz, by Forbes conservative estimate, will together shift $185 million to trust beneficiaries without having to pay gift tax. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CEO, who was then 39, used the same strategy to transfer at least $19 million tax-free.
There’s nothing illegal about what these executives did. In fact, their experience is a case study in how the ultra-rich and even the moderately wealthy can work within the parameters of the tax law to transfer vast sums of money without having to pay gift tax. Incidentally, according to the 2012 Forbes Billionaires list, Zuckerberg (#35 on the list) has a net worth of $17.5 billion and Moskovitz (#314) is worth $3.5 billion.
The wealth-transfer strategy that the Facebook billionaires used gets a passing reference in footnotes of the company’s public stock offering. It indicates that each of these company executives is the trustee for a separate annuity trust named after them and funded with shares of Facebook stock. (Moskovitz left Facebook in 2008 to co-found Asana.) This is almost certainly a reference to the popular estate planning technique known as the grantor retained annuity trust or GRAT.