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Harriet Coulson and Cort Van Rensselaer

Harriet Coulson, '48, MA '55, turned to Cort Van Rensselaer, '44, MBA '48, for advice about establishing a Stanford charitable remainder trust, and she's never looked back.

A Big Move: From Homeowner to Philanthropist

Fall 2011

Harriet Coulson, '48, MA '55, was concerned about selling her house. After 30 years, the value of her property in Portola Valley, California, had gone up enormously. She felt ready to move on, but she knew that selling her home to go into a retirement community could trigger a huge tax bill. That was before Coulson had a fortuitous cup of coffee one Sunday after church with her friends Jean and Cort Van Rensselaer, '44, MBA '48. The Van Rensselaers were just about to leave their house for a nearby retirement community. While discussing retirement planning, Cort told Coulson about one of the best decisions he'd ever made: his Stanford charitable remainder trusts (CRTs).

A veteran of Hewlett-Packard since the time David Packard hired him as a student, Van Rensselaer had been inspired by the Hewlett and Packard families' generosity to Stanford—and had wound up with highly appreciated HP stock. After considerable study, he and his wife had created three Stanford CRTs in the 1990s.

"It was a way of helping Stanford while helping ourselves," he said. In establishing the trusts, the Van Rensselaers earned an income tax deduction, were not subject to capital gains tax on the sale of the stock, and began receiving quarterly income payments for life. Now it was 2005, and they were heading to a new retirement home feeling secure, knowing that when the trusts terminate, Stanford will receive the remaining assets.

Coulson, a retired Palo Alto middle school teacher, hadn't considered a CRT. But perhaps, she thought, it could be the key to taking advantage of her house's value.

After discussing it with Van Rensselaer and Stanford's planned giving staff, Coulson decided to fund a CRT at Stanford with a partial interest in her home. When the property was later sold, the portion of the sale proceeds in the CRT was then invested in one of Stanford's trust investment options, managed by the Stanford Management Company. Coulson's share of the proceeds allowed her to secure a spot at the same retirement community as the Van Rensselaers and put away a nest egg. Creating the charitable trust eased her tax burden and also provides her with quarterly income that, Coulson happily reports, covers her expenses at the retirement community.

"I’ve never regretted my decision," she says now. She knows her trust is in good hands: It's managed by the same people who oversee the university's endowment. "The Stanford Management Company is one of the best in the country," Coulson added.

Although Jean Van Rensselaer passed away in April, Cort maintains an active lifestyle; he loves snow and waterskiing, and plans to cruise the St. Lawrence River this fall. Similarly, retirement hasn’t slowed down Coulson. A veteran world traveler, she recently visited Montana's Flathead Lake.

Both share a sense of pride that their gifts will help Stanford students. Van Rensselaer's gifts will support graduate fellowships in engineering and business, undergraduate scholarships, and the Hoover Institution. His family's bond with Stanford lives on: His daughter, Amy Van Rensselaer Scrivner, '80, is also an alumna, and his granddaughters, Karen Scrivner, '13, and Sara Van Rensselaer, '15, are current students.

Coulson’s late brother, Carl, '47, and her niece, Nancy Coulson Warrington, '77, also earned under-graduate degrees at Stanford. Now, with her gift, Coulson would like to make their experience a reality for others, too. Her trust will establish an endowed fund for scholarships for Stanford undergraduates.

"We need to make a Stanford education possible for more students," she says.

Meanwhile, helping students has opened up new possibilities for her.