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Can a charity benefit a very small number of individuals?

Bethesda, MD |

I have a severely handicapped child. He suffers from a congenital condition that affects about 40,000 people in the United States. But my son's particular genetic mutation has only been identified in two other individuals, both of whom we know, and there are probably no more than a handful of identical mutations in the entire population.

We were wiped financially out in 2008 and at my age, it's unlikely we will be able to accrue enough funds for our child's security in our estate. We want to solicit funds for a trust, perhaps a special needs trust, from others.

With a tiny group of beneficiaries, it would be easier to attract significant support from friends and relatives, especially if such support could be tax exempt. Is it possible to set up a foundation that only benefits a few?

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Attorney answers 1


There are a lot of rules on self-dealing and private foundations. You will need to meet with an attorney who sets up non-profit groups to have a chance. I attach a few documents that may give you guidance.

Use the web site to find an attorney in your area. In addition to that, contact your local bar association for referral to an attorney who specializes in this or talk to friends and neighbors to ask about an attorney they have used and liked. Often, but not always, the attorney will do an initial consultation free of charge. You will then be in a better position to determine what to do next. Best of luck to you!

If you liked this answer, click on the thumbs up! Thanks. Eliz. C. A. Johnson Post Office Box 8 Danville, California 94526-0008 Legal disclaimer: I do not practice law in any state but California. As such, any responses to posted inquiries, such as the one above, are limited to a general understanding of law in California and not to any other jurisdiction. In addition, no response to any posted inquiry should be deemed to constitute legal advice, nor to constitute the existence of an attorney/client or other contractual or fiduciary relationship, inasmuch as legal advice can only be provided in circumstances in which the attorney is able to ask questions of the person seeking legal advice and to thus gather appropriate information.



Thanks for your response. Unfortunately, we've never found any attorney willing to help us without charging considerable fees up front. It's clear from experience that we're on our own --- although the parents of children with this disease are well-networked and supportive of one another. Reading through the materials, it seems possible that a charitable body could be set up to administer special-needs trusts collectively, and that tax-exempt donations could be channelled by that entity into individual trusts, provided the charity board members and their families receive no direct benefit. How narrowly the beneficiaries can be defined, though, remains unclear. Offering the service to 40,000 families would seem pretty unrealistic. Some states (like Alabama) have state-mandated charities that set up special-needs trusts for individuals, but remittances into the trusts are not tax-exempt.

Eliz C A Johnson

Eliz C A Johnson


It is a tough place. I have a special needs child and understand the stress that comes along with the joy. If there is a non-profit organization set up for the larger group, though it is still small, they often have links to support groups and sometimes you can find an attorney among them, either with a child similarly situated or on the Board. Best to you.

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