Kirk Douglas, who died at the age of 103, donated the vast majority of his $61 million fortune to charity. The Douglas Foundation will donate $50 million to St. Lawrence University (Douglas’ alma mater), Sinai Temple of Westwood, the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, according to a new report by The Mirror. Douglas and his wife, Anne Douglas, have previously supported all of these organizations through the Douglas Foundation. Anne is still the managing custodian at the age of 100. The foundation’s mission, according to its official site, is “to assist those who can’t otherwise help themselves.”
Douglas grew up poor as the son of Jewish immigrants. He gave money to many schools, hospitals, and charities as a way of giving back, such as his old high school in Amsterdam, New York, and causes in Southern California and Jerusalem.
The rest of his fortune is unclear, though it is rumored that his son Michael, also a well-known artist, will not inherit (no mention was made of whether his other two less-known sons were included in the will). Unlike many other legends about family feuds resulting in disinheritance, it does not appear that this is the case here. Michael paid tribute to his late father on Instagram, honoring his legacy as an artist and humanitarian. And, with an estimated $300 million in personal wealth, Michael doesn’t appear to have needed the extra money.
It also appears that Douglas and his wife’s decision to donate the fortune to charity was not surprising; in a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Douglas and his wife discussed their foundation and their purpose to use the money for good donations. In the interview, Douglas praised his business-savvy wife, who founded a trust decades ago and named After learning that the trust had amassed $80 million at the time, Douglas stated, “I want to give it away.”
If you were wondering, according to Jeff Swett, managing director of UBS Financial Services’ The Swett Group in Boston, the kind of generosity indicated by Douglas “does happen, but not very frequently.” In most cases, people will leave at least some of their fortune to their children or other family members if they do not have children.
Swett notes that the most common forms of gifting are donor-advised funds (DAFs), charitable remainder trusts (CRTs), and direct contributions of highly appreciated stock. According to Swett, all strategies have advantages, and “the most appropriate option typically depends on the client’s objectives and family dynamic.” Clients value DAFs’ flexibility and can make making a contribution a family affair by naming the next generation as successor trustees. We’ve seen clients set up family scholarships by distributing a portion of their DAF each year. These types of DAFs can last forever and leave a meaningful legacy. “CRTs,” on the other hand, are useful when the goal is to give the money to charity later but earn current income for a number of years first.
“We frequently advise clients to give away at least some of their fortune while they are still alive.” Students can enjoy the process while also taking pride in the benefits and happiness they provide to others, Swett explained.
Swett, like most estate planning specialists, emphasizes the importance of encouraging family planning and incorporating the youth of today into the process as soon as possible. This not only helps to avoid surprises but also encourages the children to accept responsibility for the gifts. When properly articulated, “Swett says, survivors are frequently open and happy to contribute to their family’s charity goal.”