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Has Alaska Been Good to You?

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Jo_KuchleFirst question: Has your community been good to you? YES is the only answer I can give. When I assess my experience in Fairbanks, I think about the success I have had here. I raised my family here, had a great job here, own a nice home, and have enjoyed all of the great things that come with living in Interior Alaska. I bet most of us would say the same thing, otherwise, why have we lived here all of these years?

Second question: Will you leave your community better than you found it? The prospect of leaving something behind and how best to do that, is difficult.

It is not a new story that people have come to Alaska, made their fortunes and left. A great example is the Kennecott Mine. Few Alaskans may know that the Guggenheim family and JP Morgan formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation in 1903. At its peak in 1916, $32.4 million worth of copper ore was mined. By 1938, with the end of the high grade ore, the last train left Kennecott that year, leaving it a ghost town. As you look around our great state, there is nothing that comes to mind to memorialize any gifts or legacies that either the Guggenheim or Morgan families left behind. In New York however, there is the great Guggenheim Museum and the Morgan Museum. These two powerful families made a great deal of money in Alaska and left. They gave their fortune to other places that were not the sources of that wealth.

Will you do the same?

Before you stop reading because you think “I am no JP Morgan or Guggenheim,” consider what is happening in our community and our nation. In Fairbanks we have many small, family owned businesses. We have seen the business cycle in our community where the senior owner retires or sells that business, often relocating to warmer places. With that retirement and relocation goes the wealth that person has built and many times has made, within this community. When that person dies in Arizona, Hawaii or California, their hard earned money likely stays with institutions in those places – often leaving nothing to Fairbanks, which was the source of that wealth.

Nationally the forecasts are that between 2007 and 2061 $59 TRILLION will transfer from one generation to the next. The size of that number is largely due to the aging of baby boomers. As reported by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy in 2014, that will be the largest transfer of wealth in the history of our nation. Even if that is off by half, and there are critics of that study, that is still a huge amount of money to change ownership. Most will end up in the hands of family members and the federal government, while some will end up with charities. Where will your share of this significant number go? May I be so bold as to suggest some of it be given to your community?

All of us can leave our assets to whomever we wish, but how about considering leaving even a small percentage to the community that was so good to each of us? There are a slew of ways to leave something to your community. Charitable bequests can be made directly to non-profit organizations, churches, the University, the Hospital, and community groups that are section 501(c)(3) organizations. In Fairbanks, one of the best ways to contribute in general and for the future, is to the Golden Heart Community Foundation.

Formed in 2013, the Golden Heart Community Foundation has been backed by the Rasmuson Foundation (a family that has left a great legacy to our state) and invested and managed by the Alaska Community Foundation. Its sole mission is to build a long term endowment – a “permanent fund” – so that the interest earned on that fund will be here for the long term needs of our community. Unlike the Alaska Permanent Fund, the dividends won’t be paid to individuals, but to projects and non-profit groups that improve our community.

Before we each hang up our “Go fishing” signs, let’s think about the place that helped make your retirement dream and relocation goal possible. Perhaps leaving a little bit to the community each of us has loved before we “head south” will make our community better for those who come behind us and, in turn, we can leave it a little bit better than when we got here.

Jo Kuchle
Shareholder, Attorney
Cook Schuhmann & Groseclose, Inc.


This week’s guest author, Jo Kuchle, has been an active member of her community in various organizations including: Girl Scouts, Catholic Schools of Fairbanks, TOTE, American Heart Association and is the Chair of the Golden Heart Community Foundation. Jo’s practice areas are estate planning, real estate, commercial law, corporations, and probate.

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