Our First Job Is to Listen

Richard LeBlancRichard LeBlanc is senior attorney at the Portland law firm of LeBlanc & Young. His practice focuses on estate and trust administration, estate planning, business succession planning and charitable giving. As a seasoned estate planner with a statewide practice, Richard LeBlanc stresses the importance of being a good listener, so that a client’s values and objectives can be understood and appreciated as early as possible in the estate planning process.

In a conversation at his Portland office, LeBlanc emphasized the importance of listening and also shared some success stories with Jennifer Southard, MaineCF’s vice president, donor services and gift planning.

MaineCF: Why do you talk to your clients about charitable giving?

Richard LeBlanc: We see our function as helping clients achieve their objectives using correct, appropriate legal arrangements and explaining the tax consequence of different approaches.

If our function is to carry out their objectives, we need to understand what’s important to them. That includes not only questions about their families, but also what they think about philanthropy.

MaineCF: How have you started that conversation?

LeBlanc: It depends on the particular client and situation. We see our role first and foremost as listening carefully and picking up words, phrases, body language; we draw out with our questions what is really important to our client. Exactly how we get to the philanthropy part of the discussion will depend on how that conversation is going.

MaineCF: Any stories to share?

LeBlanc: One that comes to mind was an elderly widower who was sponsoring an important annual charitable event by picking up the tab every year beyond what was paid by people attending the event.

As he got older, it became clear that some way would have to be found to continue that tradition. He didn’t want to put that burden on his children and he wasn’t sure how it was going to work.

After a fair amount of discussion and investigation, we decided he could endow that support by creating a fund with the Maine Community Foundation. That option provided an immediate income tax charitable deduction, which he liked. He was able to use appreciated marketable securities and avoid the capital gains tax.

More importantly, this option offered a transition period during which he and his advisors and the Maine Community Foundation could get used to how he wanted the fund to work.

He has since died and those of us who knew him well are very comfortable that the endowment fund is accomplishing his objectives. His children are happy. The event continues to go on the way he wanted it to.

MaineCF: That’s a great outcome for everyone.

LeBlanc: Yes, it is. A more typical story involves a couple that wanted to set up a family charitable foundation, which would provide them with a way to carry on the tradition of their philanthropy and also encourage their adult children to remain involved in that role.

As we discussed what they were trying to accomplish and the amount of money they were prepared to commit, it became pretty clear that establishing a private charitable foundation wasn’t the best idea.

The initial cost, compliance problems and IRS regulations, plus the very distinct possibility that one or two generations down the line the family might no longer be as committed to this program as their children seemed to be, led them to reconsider.

The couple liked the idea of donor-advised funds, which they hadn’t really known about when they first came in. We hooked them up with the Maine Community Foundation, which resulted in three funds being created: a scholarship fund and two separate donor- advised funds.

If at some point the family is no longer willing to be involved as advisors, then the funds will become field-of-interest funds.

Once more, as we got a better handle on what our clients were trying to achieve, a solution presented itself through MaineCF. The foundation helped us help them.

MaineCF: It’s important to be thinking about the future.

LeBlanc: Yes, and that makes me think of a third story. This client, a widow, had no descendants and was committed to supporting charitable programs in her county, which has a lot of needs.

Her concern was that many of the more effective programs that were run by small organizations might not be around for the long haul. She also appreciated that there might be new organizations after her death that would be doing the sorts of things she wanted to support.

This client created a field-of-interest fund at the Maine Community Foundation that she knew would be supporting programs of the type she was committed to, without locking her money into any particular program that she currently liked.

I thought that decision reflected wisdom on the part of the client, but also relief that there was an organization with a presence in her county that could help fulfill her goals.

It was something that could not be done by a bank trust department or a lawyer as a trustee. So that was another win-win situation.

Richard LeBlanc is a summa cum laude graduate of Holy Cross and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. He has been actively involved in a number of charitable organizations, including the United Way Foundation of Greater Portland, the Catholic Foundation of Maine, Habitat for Humanity, and Maine Special Olympics. He is a frequent speaker at seminars and workshops on estate planning and related topics.