REVEALED: How super-rich, like $60bn Nike founder Phil Knight, avoid billions in taxes by ‘cycling’ their wealth through trusts and gift loved-ones huge chunks of their companies for free

  • Estate tax loopholes exploited by billionaires allow them to pass their wealth onto their heirs without paying taxes
  • Nike founder Philip Knight is a prime example of someone who has inflated his son’s wealth over the past decade by taking advantage of a number of loopholes
  • Since finding Nike in 1964, Knight, 83, has become the 22nd richest man in the world, with a current net worth of $59.8 billion
  • He has moved at least $9.3 billion in Nike shares and other assets to his descendants, starting in 2009, Bloomberg reported.
  • House Democrats looking to close them as a means of funding social programs and, most recently, President Biden’s 3.5 trillion spending plan

America’s wealthiest people are able to avoid billions in taxes by passing huge chunks of their companies to their heirs for free.

An analysis by Bloomberg on Knight’s fortune – estimated at $60 billion – discovered that he was able to take advantage of a financial tool called a grantor-retained annuity trust (GRAT). Knight set up nine GRATS, which enabled him to transfer $6.1 billion of Nike shares to loved-ones between 2009 and 2016 – without incurring any tax on them.

Gifts are taxable, but GRATS offer a loophole that allows the person who sets it up to designate others – such as heirs – as beneficiaries.

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Assets are then placed into GRATS, which repay their owner an annuity. If the value of a GRAT goes up, those gains can stay in the GRAT, with whatever is left then transferred to its beneficiaries – such as Knight’s heirs – tax-free.

 Knight has long-touted his commitment to eventually giving away all of his immense wealth to charity, but what lies beneath that promise is over a decade’s worth of exploiting tax loopholes to inflate his fortune and pass it on to his heirs.


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