A Guide to IRS Red Flags for Family Foundations

Nov 28, 2023 By Triston Martin

A private foundation that is charitable and set up by a family could bring benefits to both the organizations it helps and the family members that manage the Foundation's activities. But, private foundations for families are subject to complicated tax laws, which, when violated, could lead to severe penalties and even the loss of tax-exempt status. If you're considering starting a foundation for your family or are already a part of one, it's essential to be aware of the IRS Red Flags for Family Foundations. Below are the essentials about foundations for families, along with ways to avoid issues with the IRS.

How Does the Private Family Foundation Work?

The most commonly used type of private family foundation would be a charitable organization (NPO) which is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). A family, an individual can found foundations or a private company to fund any the charitable activities.

The Foundation is supported by the creator(s) who get tax deductions on their contributions. The Foundation's funds constitute its endowment and are put into ways that produce income that will be used to fund the Foundation's charitable causes shortly. The Foundation must give at least five percent of its assets towards its charitable cause. Foundations distribute the money as grants to charities or individuals, while a public charity directly invests in specific philanthropic causes.

Benefits of Foundations for the Family Foundations

Family foundations can provide benefits that outweigh simple cash gifts to charity. Here are a few of them:

  • Since family members control the Foundation's finances, they can ensure stability in charitable giving.
  • The Foundation can receive tax-deductible contributions from other organizations that can help fund the program and the family's assistance.
  • Foundation management can unite families and foster the spirit of service to the community.
  • A family member acting as the administrator helps keep management responsibilities within the family and keeps administration costs to a minimum.
  • The Foundation leaves an enduring and visible permanent legacy to the families.
  • A family foundation can be established cheaper and requires less money than most people believe.

Potential Stumbling Blocks

One of the biggest challenges when managing a family foundation could be figuring out the complex rules that the IRS establishes for the Foundation. These rules are designed to avoid conflicts of interest when family members work closely to manage the Foundation's assets.

Ignorance of the regulations could land you in serious trouble with the IRS, which has a whole section on its website dedicated to private foundations. If you're considering creating a private foundation for your family, It's essential to seek advice from a professional, such as a tax attorney who is a specialist in foundations.

Know The Definitions For "Self-Dealing" In Addition to "Disqualified Individual":

The basis of the regulations is the notion of not allowing self-trade with the Foundation and non-qualified personnel. About these terms, it is essential to be aware that self-trading may be a variety of things. However, it is primarily referring to people who gain from the trade. While the IRS definition of "unqualified personnel" is a bit ambiguous, it typically is a person who has contributed significantly to the Foundation, as well as the Foundation's officials, managers, and family members and the affiliates as well as their family members.

Family Members or Unqualified People to Hire

Foundations that are family-owned can hire family members as well as other unqualified employees. But their role must be considered essential for the Foundation.

Compensation to Be Paid

The compensation of employees who are not qualified must be in line with comparable information for similar jobs. If the IRS finds that the amount you paid someone not capable is higher than the rate currently paid for the job, the employee will be in danger of being penalized for 25 percent of any extra financial benefits they get.

Lease or Sale

The IRS will not permit leasing or sales between foundations and non-qualified employees. For instance, when someone in the family sells computer equipment for the Foundation but only receives $1000, the IRS would still view it as self-trading behavior. In the same way, when an unqualified person leases a car through the Foundation for a cost of $100/month, the actual rental for the vehicle amounts to $1,000 per year.


The IRS considers the provision of loans or credit between foundations and non-qualified individuals a self-dealing activity even when the credit or loan agreement is wholly secured and negotiated in reasonable market conditions.

Offer Facilities, Products, and Services

The IRS will not permit transactions between foundations and non-qualified personnel for compensation. However, if the transactions are conducted freely, they are allowed, provided the unqualified person doesn't profit from it.


Inviting ineligible individuals into foundation activities and soliciting the Foundation to cover their travel expenses is typically an act of self-trade. But this doesn't necessarily mean offering reasonable and essential food and accommodation to the Foundation's manager.

Ultimately, it can be a fantastic option to meet your long-term charity objectives while enjoying the joy of giving and leaving a tradition for you and your loved ones. However, if it's not done correctly, the Foundation could be costly, complicated, and stressful. Be aware that once you donate your money to the Family Foundation, it is not your money anymore. There are new rules to the game.


A family foundation is an ideal method to reach long-term goals in the field of charity while also enjoying the excitement of giving back and creating a lasting tradition for your loved ones. It can be a consuming, stressful, and costly venture if it's not managed right. It may be helpful to remember that once you've donated to a family foundation, it's no longer your money. Some rules have changed in the game.

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