Philadelphia 76ers Rookie Puts Salary in Trust: A Smart Choice?

PHOTO: Michael Carter-Williams

A rookie NBA player for the Philadelphia 76ers is being lauded for his financial prowess in putting his salary in a trust that he can't touch for three years, possibly avoiding the fate of a famous basketball player who donned the same jersey and now can't pay child support.

Drafted 11th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Michael Carter-Williams, 22, is guaranteed $4.5 million over his first two seasons, but some of his salary is being put into a trust he can't touch for three years, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. In the meantime, he is living off his endorsement deals with Nike and Panini trading cards, the newspaper said.

A trust is probably something that one of the most famous 76ers, Allen Iverson, could have used. A "Sixer" from 1996 to 2006 then 2009 to 2010, Iverson said this year that he is broke and can't pay child support. The ex-wife of the 36-year-old former Georgetown University player demanded that he put over a million dollars into a trust fund for child support.

David Friedman, president of Wealth-X, which provides data on high net worth individuals, said that it was surprising that Carter-Williams' money is in a trust, because the player is very young and doesn't have a family of his own yet. Trusts are typically structures to pass wealth in a tax-optimized way and they allow control for the heirs, Friedman explains.

"Since he does not have to worry about either of these as the purpose of this type of structure, it's not apparent what his goal is," Friedman said. "On the other hand, in the wake of copious bankruptcies and mismanagement of finances by professional athletes, it shows he is trying to be a good steward over the money he is making."

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Matt Dzamba, director of sports marketing from creative agency Zambezi, said, "This kind of 'forced' discipline is a very progressive move for a pro athlete starting his career."

The lack of financial health is a major epidemic in pro sports, Dzamba said, with 60 percent of NBA players declaring bankruptcy within five years of their athletic retirement and some 78 percent in the NFL doing so, according to a Sports Illustrated report.

"With rookie contracts capped in the NFL and NBA, the ultimate financial success of many careers are determined by the second pro contract," Dzamba said. "Protecting the first contract by essentially locking it up takes a lot of pressure off the player both on and off the court."

From Hamilton, Mass., a suburb of Boston where his family still lives, Carter-Williams went to boarding school in Rhode Island and played basketball at Syracuse.

His mother, Mandy Carter-Zegarowski and her best friend are running Carter-Williams' management team, the newspaper reported.

"Our goal is to work with Michael to manage his money in a way that will secure his long-term financial future," Carter-Zegarowski said in a statement provided to ABC News. "Right now, the focus is not only to save as much as possible, but also to use his unique position to serve as a role model and give back to the communities that continue to support him and his career."

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"They are taking a proactive approach to make sure he doesn't spend all his money in a couple of years," writes Keith Pompey, staff writer for the Inquirer.

Based on a 2013 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth study of adults with at least $3 million in investable assets, only two in five wealthy parents, or 42 percent, agree strongly that their children are or will be well-prepared to handle their inheritance. But few wealthy parents believe their children will be mature enough to handle their wealth before the age of 25.

Though the type of trust that Carter-Williams chose is not known, tax expert and attorney Kelly Phillips Erb said Carter-Williams' arrangement was an "unusual" arrangement for a lot of reasons, including the involvement of his parents in helping create the trust.

"Once you're no longer a minor, it's difficult for your parents to control your wealth. It's not theirs. It's his, no matter the intentions or if he's living in their house," she said.

The stories of young celebrities going broke or owing money to the IRS are not new.

In October, singer Aaron Carter, 25, the younger brother of Backstreet Boys member Nick, filed for bankruptcy. The travails of Lindsay Lohan, 27, and her courtroom drama often involved her need to support her family financially.

"Even if an athlete has a million dollars today, it has to last until you're 65," Phillips Erb said, adding Carter-Williams will be 27 in five years, which can be considered old for an athlete.

Phillips Erb said her "gut" was that Carter-Williams and his parents created the trust to protect his money from himself.

A self-settled trust would have certain protections but would have to have been blessed by a court, she said. A standard irrevocable trust is typically created for estate planning purposes. These can be broken but there would be tax consequences.

"In professional sports in particular, you're going to have health problems and your knees are going to go out," she said. "His parents are very smart to know he has a shelf life though they hope he'll go on to good things. But they don't want him to blow his money on a Lamborghini."

While putting money in a trust will prevent Carter-Williams from spending away his money immediately, it may also protect him from creditors after his assets. As a professional athlete, he could be the target of licensing and royalty lawsuits, Phillips Erb said.

Because many professional athletes are coming either straight from high school or only after a year or two in college, it may not be surprising that they need serious financial guidance with their million-dollar salaries.

Earlier this year, the father of Golden State Warriors rookie Klay Thompson said that he was going to ding his son's allowance after he was fined $35,000 for a fight during a game against the Indiana Pacers.

Though Thompson later said that his father was just joking about giving him an allowance, how to handle newfound wealth is something the National Basketball Association takes seriously.

The association hosts its NBA Rookie Transition Program to educate new players about financial literacy and planning for sometimes short-lived wealth, health management, and other challenges that the neophytes face.

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One of the most difficult challenges to first-generation wealth creators thinking about succession strategies is how to pass wealth from one generation to the next without destroying incentive or dividing the family, Friedman said.

"The most successful families have strategies that look at platforms such as philanthropic giving and family foundations as a way to inculcate and transfer family values to withstand the challenges presented by wealth," he said. "The structures that are created to optimize tax benefits need to be an outgrowth of broader strategies for passing wealth and values to the next generation to optimize the financial capital and human capital of the family."

Andrew W. Mayoras, attorney and co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, shared a case that showed sometimes setting up a trust to protect your assets can backfire in an unexpected way.

One young adult was convinced by his parents to set up a trust when he received a large sum of money in a personal injury lawsuit.

"At first, his father was trustee and everything was fine," Mayoras said.

Then the father passed away, and a new trustee took over.

Mayoras' client ended up suing the new trustee because he was overly restrictive releasing the money.

"Years later, my client very much regretted his decision to set up the trust," Mayoras said. "Hopefully Carter-Williams won't end up in the same boat. While it's certainly a unique approach for the young athlete to safeguard his money, it does carry risk with it that it will be overly restrictive."

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