trusts

Tax Efficient Charitable Giving

by Joe Ben Combs, CPA

Tax Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

As we all know there are tax benefits associated with donating to charities, religious organizations, universities, etc. We have written in the past about the basics of charitable contributions but we thought it would be good to take it to the next level and share some of the more sophisticated ways we help our clients maximize the tax benefits of their charitable giving. We’ll start with the simplest ideas first.

  1. “Bunching” contributions. You may be familiar with the concept as it is often applied to property taxes. The idea is that if you accelerate next year’s giving into this year (bunching multiple years’ deductions into one year) you can get both deductions this year and then next year you can take the standard deduction that have otherwise been wasted. It’s something I personally have taken advantage of on multiple occasions but it certainly doesn’t make sense for everyone. There are a host of factors that may limit the benefits so it’s definitely worth a quick conversation with your CPA or financial advisor before pulling the trigger.
  2. Qualified charitable distributions. A QCD is a distribution directly from your IRA to a qualified charity. You will not get a deduction for the contribution but the distribution is also not included in your income, which usually yields a better result than if you were to take a taxable distribution and then deduct the charitable contribution. What’s even better is these distributions can be used to satisfy your annual required minimum distributions (RMDs). It is a highly tax efficient way to give to charity. However, there are two major limitations. First, you must be at least age 70 1/2 to make a QCD. Second, the maximum amount you can distribute as a QCD is $100,000 per year.
  3. Donation of appreciated stock. This is one of the most powerful and underutilized charitable giving strategies available. Let’s look at an example to illustrate. Assume you intend to donate $100,000 to a charity. You currently hold a stock that you purchased for $60,000 and now happens to be worth $100,000. You could sell the stock and donate the $100,000 to charity, creating a taxable gain of $40,000 (and a tax hit of $6,000 of tax, assuming a 15% capital gains tax rate). Or you could donate the stock directly to the charity. If you do this, the tax rules allow you to take the same $100,000 deduction as if you had donated cash but avoid recognizing the capital gain. One thing to keep in mind – this strategy cannot be used to avoid short term capital gains as the contributed property must be held for more than a year.
  4. Donor advised funds. A donor advised fund (DAF) essentially functions as a charitable giving account. You are allowed a tax deduction when you contribute to the fund. Once the funds are in the account they are legally no longer in your control but you are allowed to give instructions (technically grant recommendations) to the organization managing the account about how to distribute the funds. They will often even allow you to select how the funds are invested while they are in the account so they continue to grow. This is a great way to manage your charitable giving and can help to facilitate some of the strategies already mentioned. For example, if you want to bunch your contributions this year but you don’t know which charity you want to give to or you just don’t want to give it all right now, you can contribute to your DAF and decide later where and when to distribute the funds. Or let’s say you want to donate a piece of appreciated stock but the organization you want to donate to does not have the structure in place to receive stock donations. You can contribute the stock to your DAF, the DAF will sell the stock, and you can direct the cash proceeds be donated to the charity. DAFs are also a useful tool for those who want to contribute anonymously.
  5. Charitable trusts. There are a variety of trust arrangements that can be used – usually as estate planning tools – to accomplish your charitable goals. We won’t go into all the particulars here but these usually involve a noncharitable beneficiary receiving income for a certain period of time (generally his or her lifetime) and a charitable beneficiary receiving the remainder, or vice versa. Charitable trusts are a good option for those with substantial wealth looking to retain income for their lifetime, maintain control over charitable assets, or create a more flexible plan of disposition for their assets that includes charitable and noncharitable goals. Needless to say, consultation with your CPA and/or attorney is highly recommended before pursuing this option.
  6. Private foundation. For those with substantial wealth who are interested in creating an ongoing charitable operation, a private foundation may be the solution. While these can be expensive to create and maintain, they provide opportunities that none of the previous strategies do. For example, if you are interested in providing free tutoring to underprivileged children in an area that is not served by any other organization, you can create a foundation that does just that. You can claim a tax deduction for contributions to the foundation, maintain control of the operational aspects, and involve friends or family members in the leadership of the organization if desired. Of course there are numerous tax, legal, and administrative considerations to be discussed with your CPA and attorney before going down this road.

9 Things to Know When Settling a Loved One’s Estate

by Joe Ben Combs, CPA

Tax Supervisor @ Atchley & Associates, LLP

 

Handling the estate of a family member or friend who has passed away can be one of the most difficult things you may be asked to do, both emotionally and logistically. You have to navigate a complex tax system, a treacherous legal system and a bureaucratic financial system all while managing relationships with beneficiaries eager for their inheritance, not to mention the task of dealing with your own personal loss.

Our team has walked many people through this process and we thought it would be helpful to share a few items that our clients often need to be reminded of.

  1. Notifications. There are a number of individuals, businesses and institutions that are impacted when someone passes away and will need to be notified. Depending on the situation, these can include the Social Security Administration, heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, financial institutions, insurance companies, and utilities providers, among others.
  2. Obtain an EIN. The employer identification number is the tax ID used by an estate or trust. This will be required to open an estate or trust bank account as well as for any tax filings.
  3. Change of address. The United States Postal Service allows you to request a change of address online at usps.com. This is important in order to avoid a pile of mail in the decedent’s mailbox which can pose a security risk but it also allows you as the person responsible for the estate to stay on top of bills and identify businesses or financial institutions with which the decedent may have had accounts.
  4. Taxes. As the personal representative, you may be responsible for filing a number of tax returns for the decedent. These might include an estate tax return (form 706) an income tax return for the estate (form 1041) and the individual’s final income tax return (form 1040) or gift tax return (form 709) as well as unfiled returns from prior years. With all of these come a host of possible tax elections and post-mortem planning opportunities that should be discussed with a tax professional. And while Texas does not have any corresponding state returns for these federal filings, many decedents will have filing obligations in other states.
  5. Search for unclaimed property. One of the primary responsibilities of the executor, administrator or trustee handling an estate is to identify, collect, value, manage, and dispose of or distribute the decedent’s assets. An often overlooked source of assets is the state itself. In Texas, the Comptroller provides a website (https://mycpa.cpa.state.tx.us/up/Search.jsp) where individuals and business can search for unclaimed property by name.
  6. Value all assets. This was alluded to above but it is worth repeating. Even if the value of a decedent’s estate is below the threshold to generate any estate tax, obtaining date-of-death values (or values as of the alternate valuation date if applicable) is crucial to ensure correct income tax reporting when that property is subsequently disposed of. This is because the basis (tax-speak for the starting point in a gain or loss calculation) of an asset gets stepped up to the date of death value and is often difficult to track down later on when the asset is sold.
  7. Disclaiming an inheritance. Many beneficiaries find it advantageous for various reasons to allow assets that they would have otherwise inherited to pass to someone else. This can be an effective post-mortem planning technique. Keep in mind however that the assets must then be distributed as if the beneficiary had predeceased the decedent. In order to be effective for tax purposes a disclaimer generally must be made within 9 months of the date of death and the original beneficiary must not have received any benefit from the disclaimed assets.
  8. IRAs. Decedents’ assets at death will often include retirement accounts, particularly IRAs. The full range of options available for handling IRAs is beyond the scope of this piece and it is often not the executor’s decision what happens to these accounts but simply keep in mind that withdrawing the funds immediately is often the least advantageous option. Consulting a CPA or financial advisor is highly recommended when making these decisions.
  9. Hire professionals. At the risk of sounding self-serving, we could not in good conscience omit this simple piece of advice. There are simply too many moving pieces and too much at stake to not at least consult with a CPA and/or attorney who is experienced in dealing with estates.