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A gift of real estate provides income for life—and time to pursue passions

After owning and managing an apartment complex, Mandana Varnoos looked for a tax-smart way to retire while supporting a cause meaningful to her.

Mandana Varnoos smiles while sitting outside on a bench

Mandana Varnoos’s planned gift will support neuroscience research at Stanford.

Mandana Varnoos worked at Stanford many years ago as a quality engineer. Although her stint on campus was brief, she developed a deep appreciation for the university’s research endeavors and later became particularly interested in the neurosciences. 

In 2019, as she was considering retirement, she reached out to Stanford’s Office of Planned Giving. She wanted to explore options for making a gift of real estate and ultimately chose to establish a  charitable remainder unitrust—a type of planned gift that provides her with tax benefits now, income payments during her lifetime, and will support neuroscience research at Stanford in the future. 

“Stanford is one of the finest institutions,” she says. “It attracts students and faculty who are passionate and want to devote their lives to making a difference in the world.”

Mandana grew up in Tehran, Iran, in a family that valued education. She came to the United States to attend college and then started working as a manufacturing quality engineer—which eventually led her to Stanford. After leaving the university, she gradually transitioned to a new career in real estate investing.

Through my donation to Stanford, I am delighted that I can help others.” —Mandana Varnoos

In 2006, she had an opportunity to buy a multi-family apartment complex. She was raising her young son at the time and realized that if she was self-employed, she would have more flexibility in her schedule. She used her engineering skills and professional experience to develop a successful investment business in real estate. 

In 2019, as her son was preparing to graduate from Cal Poly, Mandana decided she wanted more time to focus on her passion for art and sculpting in clay. “I had worked hard all my life,” she says. “Immigrating to the U.S., earning an engineering degree from Northeastern, pursuing a successful career as an engineer, and then owning and managing several multi-family properties—none of it was easy. But through my donation I am delighted that I can help others as well as retire so I can devote myself to art.”

Mandana Varnoos smiles while working with clay in her studio.

Mandana now devotes her time to art and sculpting in clay.

When an investor sells an appreciated income property, they typically either use the proceeds to invest in another income-producing property or pay taxes on the gains. Mandana was looking for another option. “I wanted to use the taxable capital gain to support a good cause, and I knew the funds won’t go to waste at Stanford,” she says.

Mandana established a charitable remainder unitrust with a partial interest in one of her apartment buildings, a decision that provided her with a significant tax benefit when she set up the trust, as well as income payments for life. And because the trust is tax-exempt, Mandana, as the initial trustee of the trust, did not pay capital gains taxes on the trust’s share of the apartment complex when it was sold. 

The process of making a charitable gift was easy and straightforward, she says: “Anyone who no longer wants to manage real estate and would like to benefit charity can do this.”

Mandana’s planned gift allows her to retire with peace of mind, while knowing that her future gift to Stanford will help advance research in the neurosciences. She supports this field, she says, because “our mental capacity, perception, and action—both normal and dysfunctional—affect our lives, our communities, and ultimately, our planet.” 

“Research and education at Stanford can make a difference,” she says. “Both give hope for a better future for all.”