Faces of the Foundation: An interview with Carter Ruml

‘I find the Foundation to be an incredible philanthropic partner’

Carter Ruml has blazed an impressive career path in financial planning and trust and estate law.

Fresh out of Stanford University Law School, he moved to Louisville in 2004 and began practicing law at Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs. He went on to work as vice president and senior wealth planner at PNC Wealth Management, then as partner at Stites & Harbison, where he oversaw the firm’s trusts and estates practice.

In the fall of 2015 he co-founded the boutique trust and estates firm Ruml + Bozell PLC. Their mission is to help clients use their wealth to strengthen and sustain the people and causes they care about most.

It’s in carrying out the latter part of this mission that Ruml works closely with The Community Foundation of Louisville. In his role as a professional advisor, Ruml partners with the Foundation to help clients reach their charitable goals.

We recently chatted with Ruml to learn more about his practice, estate planning tips and trends, and how philanthropy comes into play with clients.

How do you bring a financial planning perspective to trust and estate law, and why is it important to do so?

Trust and estate decisions are best made when you understand the context of a person’s net worth today and how it’s going to change over time. Without knowing the context of someone’s cash flow and spending patterns, it’s not a complete picture.

What are the main, recurrent themes you see in clients’ desires to provide for future needs? 

The big one that’s been so interesting across all levels is that people want to ensure the people they care about are safe and thriving. If someone has more modest resources, the focus is on making sure there’s enough to take care of children and grandchildren. When wealth gets larger and there’s obviously enough, it’s still a question of, “How can I use my wealth to ensure my family is happy and fulfilled?”

People are also very aware of market volatility across the board, and there is a priority of having secure cash flows. Even the very, very wealthy worry about these things.

The biggest common pitfall I’ve seen is that people often don’t give thorough attention to who will serve as executor and trustee of their estate. When clients are not thoughtful about who they are putting in those roles, there can be tremendous amounts of friction, which can be hurtful for families.

How does the topic of philanthropy arise in conversations with your clients?  

Families reflect their values through charitable giving. This is something we discuss as I’m getting to know my clients. Philanthropy helps people carry out what’s important to them.

What role do charitable goals play in your clients’ planning?  

After we have focused on their family, I will ask them what else they might want to consider — like perhaps charities. I don’t want people to feel like they are being pushed, but I want them to consider charities if that’s something that is meaningful to them.

How can people provide for charities through their plans?

The big ways are bequests and beneficiary designations, along with a “remainder interest devise of real estate” and lifetime gifts. 

How did you become acquainted with the Foundation and how has the Foundation been useful in your clients’ trust and estate planning?

The Foundation has a wonderful reputation. I got to know the organization while working with lawyers who were also using the Foundation as a significant part of their clients’ estate planning. It’s been a very productive and positive relationship from the beginning and it’s grown stronger throughout the years.

On a personal level, our family and generous friends established a Donor Advised Fund in 2019 focused on children’s literacy, arts, and health. The Foundation has been an outstanding partner on those initiatives as well. 

I find the Foundation to be an incredible philanthropic partner to help identify organizations of interest. They provide a very high level of service, and they offer a convenient and easy-to-use experience. 

Do you find any particular services at the Foundation to be especially useful?

The one my clients have found most useful are Donor Advised Funds. The incredibly powerful feature of this is that it separates the time of funding from the time of distribution. This allows people to potentially achieve an immediate tax result when they need one and then develop and finalize their actual philanthropic plans over time. 

How can philanthropy be a tool in tax and/or estate planning, and how can that planning maximize the support a donor can provide to charities?

I like to work with my clients so that they become clear about what their charitable goals are and what their target funding is without regard to tax issues. Once that’s been identified, there’s all sorts of creative tax approaches to reach their objective.

Here’s one example: If someone is an executive in their early 60s and they know they are going to be giving to charity for the rest of their lives, it makes sense when they are in the last years of their working career and in a higher tax bracket to fund a Donor Advised Fund. Then they can distribute fund assets over time once they’re in retirement, and in a lower tax bracket. 

How can families approach multigenerational planning, and what role can philanthropy play?

Effective planning that includes philanthropy can maintain cohesion within a family and ties to a particular place long after the original family member has passed away.

A lot of the families who created wealth here are becoming very thoughtful about how to sustain the community when there’s a shrinking corporate funding base for philanthropy. To have families step up with their own capital to provide philanthropic support for the community is becoming all the more important. 

How can crafting an estate plan provide peace of mind?  

I think it’s knowing that someone’s change in health or passing away won’t provide financial problems for the people they care about. It won’t make the grief go away, but it allows families to care for each other at that time instead of having to worry about such things.

How often should individuals revisit their plans?

The general rule of thumb is every three to five years. But that rule can be set aside when someone’s family circumstances change through marriage, a death, birth, or if income or net worth changes significantly. The third trigger of review is significant changes to tax law.

If you are interested in receiving further information, contact Jennifer Fust-Rutherford at [email protected] or 502.855.6953.