hands typing on computer

A cutting edge issue in traditional estate planning is cryptocurrency. “Cryptocurrency” (as defined by Investopedia) is “a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security. A cryptocurrency is difficult to counterfeit because of this security feature. A defining feature of a cryptocurrency, and arguably its most endearing allure, is its organic nature; it is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.”

The most common, and for now the unofficial standard for cryptocurrency (AKA altcoin) is Bitcoin. But the market is getting increasingly more crowded with others including Ripple, Dash, Litecoin, and Zcash to name just a few. (For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Bitcoin, but these points could be applied to cryptocurrencies in general.)

Many posts could be written about cryptocurrency, its benefits, and its challenges, but this post is focused on how to account for Bitcoin in your estate plan, as opposed to a standard currency, like the U.S. Dollar.

Acknowledge the IRS’ Perspective

The IRS has determined, at least for the time being, virtual currency is treated as personal property for federal tax purposes. So, virtual currency transactions are most definitely not the same as, say, online banking through your local community credit union. Instead, for general tax purposes, Bitcoin is treated like tangible property you own, like a painting or a car.

Establish the Existence of Bitcoin

Unlike a checking or saving account. there are no beneficiary designations on Bitcoin accounts. In fact, quite the opposite — Bitcoin is anonymous. Therefore, if you were to die without communicating that you have Bitcoin, it will die with you.

For security reasons, of course, you won’t want everyone to know about your ownership of Bitcoin. But you do need to develop a method for passing along the important details to a trusted representative such as your named trustee or executor. This is somewhat similar to accounting for digital assets in your estate plan and many of the same steps/tips apply.

Bitcoin falls into somewhat of a “grey” area outside the realm of a pure digital asset, but it also isn’t a pure financial asset. It might make sense to entrust the existence of Bitcoin to the person you assign to take care of your digital assets, especially if they have a better knowledge base of the what/why/how of cryptocurrency.

Make sure the Bitcoin is Accessible

Unlike a traditional bank account, your executor/trustee can’t just simply contact Bitcoin (as they would your community credit union or bank)  after your death. Your agent must have your private key (or username/password depending on the wallet host) in order to access and then distribute the coin as you’ve determined in your estate plan. Again, if you’re the only person who has access to your “wallet,” the Bitcoin will be forever lost in the network. If you’re comfortable with it, you could include your Bitcoin private key on a secure digital archive site like Everplans or, more traditionally, you could keep the key in a safety deposit box.

Plan for the Prudent Investor Act

Many states, including Iowa, have a version of the Prudent Investor Act. (The text of Iowa’s law can be found under the Iowa Uniform Prudent Investor Act.) Under the Act, if you die with a large reserve of Bitcoin, it could be considered an “investment” which the trusted agent could be required to sell and/or diversify. In the face of uncertainty, it’s always better to account for contingencies in your estate plan before your loved ones are faced with a bad scenario. If one of the goals of your estate plan is to grant your executor/trustee the ability to hold your Bitcoin long-term, then it’s wise to include specific language in your will or trust absolving the executor/trustee from liability if they “fail” to diversity your Bitcoin.

Think About Taxes

If your executor/trustee retains your Bitcoin it would not be considered income (at least at the time of this post’s writing). However, if Bitcoin is converted to cash following your passing, it must be declared as income on an estate tax return. Additionally, if your executor were to retain Bitcoin, see it appreciate in value, and then sell it, there is the issue of the capital gains tax. (“The IRS requires American resident taxpayers to report Bitcoin trading income and losses worldwide on U.S. resident tax returns.”) Consider this in your directive of how you would like your Bitcoin to be managed in event of your death.

Fair Market Value: Step Up or Down

The fact that Bitcoin is currently considered personal property means evaluating for either a step-up or step-down in basis given the fair market value on the date of death. (I write more on this in regards to four different types of assets here.)

Let’s consider the hypothetical where Betty inherits 100 Bitcoins (BTC) from Amy. At the time of Amy’s death 1 BTC is worth $50 and when Betty goes to spend 1 BTC, it’s worth $60. That means Betty’s taxable gain on the use of the Bitcoin is $10. How much Amy initially paid for the 100 BTC is irrelevant. Again, the only relevant factor is the fair market value on the date of Amy’s death. It’s wise, as part of your estate planning, to consider your Bitcoin’s depreciation or appreciation to determine how this may affect your heirs. It’s even wiser to discuss your individual situation with professional tax and financial advisors, as well as your estate planning attorney.

Estate Planning is a Must, not an Option

It’s likely we’re going to only see more unique situations, such as that which cryptocurrency presents, in the future. While the future value of Bitcoin may be uncertain, for certain you need an estate plan, and you shouldn’t let your investment die with you. If you already have an estate plan, it’s probably a good time to revisit it to ensure it accounts for assets like Bitcoin. Email me or give me a call (515-371-6077) with questions or to discuss your digital estate planning needs.

hands in huddle

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? Celebrate and make an impact at the same time by donating your time, energy, and skills to the causes you care most about.

However, unlike the charitable contribution deduction on federal income tax for cash and non-cash assets, the IRS does not count volunteering time as a part of that deduction. However, out-of-pocket expenses relating to volunteering are deductible.

Out-of-pocket expenses are deductible if the expenses are:

  • unreimbursed;
  • directly connected with the services;
  • expenses you had only because of the services you gave; and
  • not personal, living, or family expenses.

Out-of-pocket charitable expenses which might be deductible include the cost of transportation (including parking fees); travel expenses while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization; unreimbursed uniforms or other related clothing worn as part of your charitable service; and supplies used in the performance of your services.

As with other donations, keep good records…documentation is key!

love your neighbor hat

If you have any questions I would love to be of assistance. (After all, the mission at Gordon Fischer Law Firm is to maximize charitable giving, which certainly includes volunteer time!) Reach out to me at any time via email or by phone (515-371-6077)

hands of 2 grooms

Everyone needs an estate plan! This goes for if you’re a young professional or have minor children or are retired. And, it goes for all married couples

This year marks a decade since Iowa Supreme Court decision of Varnum v. Brien, which legalized same-sex marriage in the state. This case was a precursor and set a standard echoed subsequently in other states and eventually at the national level. The Supreme Court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage was a major win for both LGBTQ and human rights. 

Love is love written on card

The 10-year marker of the Varnum decision reminded me that Obergefell had an enormous impact on estate planning. With same-sex marriage now recognized across the country, it opened a multitude of previously unattainable tools and tax-savings that come along with a legal and recognized marriage. Yet, same-sex couples still may have situations that require extra or special planning. You may be surprised to learn that It can’t be it covered by a single article, so I’ll hit the high points. Here are five considerations for same-sex spouses engaged in estate planning.

Unlimited Marital Deduction

The unlimited marital deduction is a money-saving must for all married couples. The unlimited marital deduction is an essential estate preservation tool because it means an unrestricted amount of assets can be transferred (at any time, including at death) from one spouse to the other spouse, free from taxes (including the estate tax and gift tax). Prior to Obergefell, same-sex couples had to depend on their individual applicable exclusion in order to provide for a surviving partner.

(Note that the marital deduction is available only to surviving spouses who are U.S. citizens. If your spouse is not a U.S. citizen, look at other tools, such as a qualified domestic trust (QDOT), which may act to minimize or eliminate taxes.)

marriage equality flags

Guardianship of Minor Children

A will is so critically important for several reasons, including the fact a parent can make a designation of guardianship for minor children should something happen to the parent while the child is still under age 18. Without a will, no guardianship can be established, and Iowa Courts must choose guardians. Unfortunately, with no clear evidence as to what the former caregivers would have preferred, the Court must make its “best guess” as to who the parents would have preferred and what would be in the best interest of the child. The Court may, or may not, choose who the caregivers would have named.

Child smiling on bridge

Establishing guardianship is SO important for all parents, but especially so for same-sex parents. The legal relationship between a minor child and a parent in a same-sex marriage should specifically be identified in the estate plan. Additionally, if only one spouse is currently the natural or adoptive parent of a minor child, the spouse of the said parent should consider adopting the child to legalize the relationship. Without this officially established relationship, the death of the adoptive/natural parent could open the door for a custody battle with the deceased’s family or the child’s birth parents. To avoid litigation (and avoiding litigation in estate planning is always a good idea), co-parent adoptions protect each parent’s rights regarding guardianship.

If adoption isn’t on the table, it’s smart to create a trust with specific provisions for the relationship between the non-legal parent and the minor child if someone else were to become the guardian.

(Expert advice: The adoption tax credit is not available for a spouse adopting a spouse’s child. If adoption is in the plans it may be financially advantageous for the adoption to take place prior to marriage.)

Give Your Assets to your Child(ren)

Adoption also plays an important role not just in guardianship but in the passage of assets. Typically, when parents die their assets are passed on to their child(ren). If this is indeed an estate planning goal for a same-sex couple, adoption should definitely be considered since it’s more common in same-sex marriages for only one parent to be biologically related to the child.

The term for adoption by a spouse (without the “first parent” losing any parental rights) varies from state-to-state and can be called second-parent adoption, co-parent adoption, stepparent adoption, or confirmation adoption.

mom daughter blowing kiss

Once an adoption is final, an adoptive parent has all the permanent legal rights and responsibilities of a parent-child relationship, exactly the same as that of a birth parent.

Without the legal determination and an estate plan the child(ren) may not get anything as the couple’s assets could flow instead to other family members.  

Professional Planner

For all the aforementioned considerations and more, it’s smart for all couples, but especially same-sex couples, to avoid the DIY online estate plan templates. Most of these services don’t include the specific provisions and important estate plan needs of LGBT couples. Seek out a lawyer with ample experience in estate planning who understands the potential legal challenges your estate could face so they can adequately protect your assets from potential peril. For instance, if you think the situation could arise where family members who disprove of the marriage or decisions regarding the estate could create future conflict, your lawyer should be able to advise on how a “no contest” clause to be incorporated into the estate plan.

Comprehensive Review

As stated before, given the tax-saving tools that marriage provides, it’s nothing but beneficial to review any and all existing estate plan documents of each spouse. (Married couples often seek joint representation in estate planning, but individual representation can help couples avoid conflicts of interest.)

In your estate plan review confirm that definitions accurately reflect relationships with verbiage such as “spouse,” “children,” “husband,” “wife,” and the like, so there’s no ambiguity when it comes to execution of the plan.

Following marriage, it’s also a good idea to take a look at re-titling property (such as a home) from sole ownership to joint tenancy. This means that if one spouse were to pass, the other would get the property without it passing through probate. (Depending on your situation, you could also consider “tenancy in common” as another option for holding property titles under multiple names.)

Additionally, don’t forget to check your beneficiary designations on accounts such as savings/checking, insurance, 401k, and retirement benefits, as these designations actually trump your will.

Ask your professional advisors—lawyer, financial advisor, insurance agent—to help you maximize your money-saving benefits when it comes to gift, income, and federal/state estate taxes.

two brides getting married

Get Started

You’ve worked hard for the assets you’ve built and the property you’ve acquired. Almost assuredly you want these assets to pass to the ones you love—the ones you’ve built a life with and around. Don’t let legal loopholes, family members that will never fully understand that love is love, or guardianship issues get in the way you crafting your legacy. It’s never too early to get started on your estate plan (with my free, no-obligation) estate plan questionnaire. I’m always happy to discuss the topic over the phone (515) 371-6077 or via email.

GoFisch blog

Mark Twain famously said, “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” Life insurance is a little like that. Everyone needs it, but we don’t like to talk about it much.

Life Insurance as Key Estate Planning Tool

Life insurance is an amazing estate planning tool. I cannot stress enough the importance of life insurance. I, of course, don’t sell it, so I have no economic stake here. It’s just that life insurance is generally reasonably and affordably priced, yet still so helpful with so many financial goals. Replacing a breadwinner’s earnings is one of the most commons ways it is utilized. But, it can also provide liquid assets for a small business when a key partner dies. Life insurance can also cover costs that you might forget about, like funeral costs or unpaid taxes. While there are many advantages to life insurance, and you most definitely need it, life insurance can also create estate planning issues.

Three Estate Planning Issues Life Insurance May Create

The major issue created by life insurance is that of the “sudden windfall” to your beneficiary. Do you really want, say, your 19-year-old to inherit several hundred thousand dollars at once? Even oldsters with experience managing finances may find a huge influx of cash to be overwhelming.

Another issue to consider: does your beneficiary receive government benefits? If so, proceeds from your life insurance policy might make your beneficiary ineligible for further benefits. By the way, don’t think that those receiving government aid are all elderly. Quite the opposite! A vast majority of Medicaid recipients are under age 44. Regardless of age, any beneficiary on Medicaid, or similar government aid program, is at risk of losing benefits without careful estate planning.

Finally, for high-net-worth (HNW) individuals and families, there is the issue of the federal estate tax. Everything owned in your name at death is included in your estate for estate tax purposes. Yes, that includes the death benefit proceeds of your life insurance policy. Considering that many policies carry quite hefty death benefits (several hundred thousand dollars, or more, not being unusual), this is definitely something for those with HNW to carefully consider.

In Trusts we Trust

I’ve explained trusts generally before. A quick primer: in simplest terms, a trust is a legal agreement between three parties: grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. This allows a third party (the trustee) to hold assets for a beneficiary (or beneficiaries).

There are a nearly infinite variety of trusts. One type of trust is an irrevocable life insurance trust or ILIT.

So, what IS an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?

Think of an ILIT as an “imaginary container,” which owns your life insurance policy for you. This provides several benefits. An ILIT removes the life insurance from your estate, i.e., lowers estate tax liability. Like other trusts, an ILIT allows you to decide how, when, and even why your named beneficiary receives life insurance proceeds.

Wait, what was that about the three parties?

The grantor is you, the purchaser of life insurance.

The trustee can be anyone you, as grantor, chooses — an individual(s) or a qualified corporate trustee (like the trust department at your bank). But, note a major difference between an ILIT and other kinds of trusts – with a large number of other trusts, you can name yourself as trustee. With an ILIT, you wouldn’t want to do so, because the IRS may then determine that life insurance really hasn’t left your estate.

Who can be a beneficiary of an ILIT?

Most often, spouses, children, and/or grandchildren are the named beneficiaries of an ILIT. But really, it can be any individual(s) you, as grantor, choose.

Your beneficiary and your life insurance proceeds

The conditions under which a beneficiary receives distributions from an ILIT is up to you. You can, for example, specify that your beneficiary receives monthly or annual distributions. You can decide the amounts. You may even dictate that your beneficiary receives distributions when s/he reaches milestones which you choose. For example, you can provide for a large(r) distribution when a beneficiary reaches a certain age, graduates from college or post-graduate program, buys a first home, marries, or has a child. Or, really, just about any other condition or event that you decide is appropriate.

You also have the option to build in flexibility, so that your trustee has the discretion to provide distributions when your beneficiary needs it for a special purpose, like pursuing higher education, starting a business, making an investment, and so on.

And, of course, if your beneficiary is receiving government benefits, an ILIT can account for that, as well.

Good gosh, is there anything an ILIT CAN’T DO?

Once again, an ILIT is irrevocable. While an ILIT provides a great deal of flexibility, there’s one action for certain you can’t take — you cannot transfer a policy owned by an ILIT into your own name. So, if you think that someday you may need to access the policy’s cash value for your own purposes, you probably shouldn’t set up an ILIT.

Options for “ending” an ILIT

Now, I suppose, there’s nothing requiring you to continue making insurance payments into your ILIT. Depending on the kind of policy you have, your policy may lapse as soon as you miss your premium payment. Or, if your policy has cash value, these funds may be used to pay premiums until all the accumulated cash is exhausted. So, that’s an option for “ending” an ILIT.

I bet you have some questions. Let’s talk!

An ILIT can provide you, your loved ones, and your estate with significant benefits. To learn more, contact me at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, for a free consultation, without obligation. You can also give me a call at 515-371-6077.


*Yes, you’re right – ILIT is really not a word, but an acronym. You caught me. It’s just that Legal Word of the Day sounds more exciting than Legal Acronym of the Day. Also, congratulations to you for being the kind of person who reads footnotes.

**In 2019 an individual must have an estate of more than about $11.18 million, and a married couple an estate of more than $22.8 million, before they need to worry about federal estate taxes.

2019 taxes

Minneapolis, Minnesota may have the Final Four, but Iowa has such generous tax benefits for charitable gifts. In fact, in Iowa, donors can receive four amazing tax benefits for charitable gifts. Your March Madness bracket may be busted already, but these benefits are ones you can bank on.

Appreciated, long-term property

For donors and potential donors, the ideal asset for charitable donations will depend on a whole range of factors. But, when donating to charity, one type of asset to seriously consider is appreciated, long-term property. Common examples of such property would include publicly traded stock, real estate, and farmland. First, a couple of terms to be clear on:

  • Appreciated: simply means increased in value.
  • Long-term: property held for more than one year (e.g., 366 days).

Give now, rather than later

The four tax benefits I’ll outline are only available when the charitable gifts are made during a lifetime. It’s been said, “You should be giving while you are living, so you’re knowing where it’s going.” Many Iowans have philanthropic intentions to donate to their favorite causes eventually, usually at death through their estate plan, will, and testamentary trust. Why not give now? You can have more say about your charitable gifts while you are still alive, and also feel the joy that comes with helping the causes you care about most. Again, there are also lots of good tax reasons for giving now rather than later. 

fan of dollars

Benefits of gifting appreciated, long-term property

While not celebrated as much as the Final Four, there are four genuinely exciting tax benefits for charitable gifts of appreciated, long-term property. 

Double Federal Tax Benefit

When you gift appreciated, long-term property (ALTP) to a charity during lifetime, you may receive a double federal tax benefit. First, you can receive an immediate charitable deduction on your federal income tax, which is equal to the fair market value of the property. Second, assuming, of course, you have owned the property for more than one year, when you donate the property, you avoid the long-term capital gain taxes you would have owed if you sold the property.

Let’s look at a concrete example to make this clearer. Pat owns appreciated, long-term property (such as stocks, real estate, or farmland) with a fair market value of $100,000. Pat wants to use the property to help favorite causes in the local community. Which would be better for Pat–to sell the property and donate the cash, or give the property directly to favorite charities? Assume that the property was originally purchased at $20,000 (basis), Pat’s income tax rate is 35%, and the capital gains tax rate is 20%. 

ALTP table

Note: This table is for illustrative purposes only. Only your own financial or tax advisor can advise your personal situation on these matters.

Again, a gift of appreciated, long-term property, made during your lifetime, is doubly beneficial. You receive a federal income tax charitable deduction equal to the fair market value of the property. You also avoid the capital gains tax. In Iowa, there is even a greater potential benefit. You may receive a 25% state tax credit for such charitable gifts, lowering the after-tax cost of your gift even further.

25% Endow Iowa Tax Credit

Under the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program, gifts during lifetime can be eligible for a 25% tax credit. There are three requirements to qualify.

  1. The gift must be given to, or receipted by, a qualified Iowa community foundation.
  2. The gift must be made to an Iowa charity.
  3. The gift must be endowed—that is, a permanent gift. Under Endow Iowa, no more than 5% of the gift can be granted each year. The rest is held by and invested by a local community foundation.

Let’s look again at the case of Pat, who is donating appreciated, long-term property per the table above. If Pat makes an Endow Iowa qualifying gift, the tax savings are very dramatic:

donating altp

Note: This table is for illustrative purposes only. Only your own financial or tax advisor can advise your personal situation on these matters.

Pat gave a significant and generous gift to a charity of $100,000. But using the Endow Iowa Tax Credit, coupled with the federal income tax charitable deduction and capital gains savings, the after-tax cost of the gift of $100,000 is less than $20,000. Plus, because the gift was endowed, it will be invested by Pat’s local community foundation and will presumably grow through its investment. Thus, it will continue benefiting the charities Pat cares about most!

Note again Pat’s huge tax savings. In this scenario, by giving appreciated, long-term property during lifetime, Pat receives $35,000 as a federal charitable deduction, avoids $16,000 of capital gains taxes, and gains a $25,000 state tax credit, for a whopping total tax savings of $76,000.

Gift Tax Considerations

Yet another benefit: charitable gifts are exempt from federal gift tax. In fact, charitable contributions made to qualifying charities are not the only deductible on itemized tax returns, but you may also deduct the value of your charitable donations from any amount of gift taxes you owe.

Areas of Caution

Going back to our example, this is a great deal for Pat and a great deal for Pat’s favorite causes. But, could anything go wrong with this scenario? There are a few areas of caution.

Charitable Deduction Capped

The federal income tax charitable deduction is capped. Generally, the federal charitable deduction for gifts of an appreciated, long-term property is limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) to public charities and 30% of AGI to private foundations. You may, however, carry forward any unused deduction amount for an additional five years.

Endow Iowa Capped

Endow Iowa Tax Credits are also capped both statewide and per individual. Iowa sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa Tax Credits and it is first come, first served. In 2018, approximately $6 million in tax credits were available annually through Endow Iowa. This means it’s not only is it important to make your gift but to fill out and return your Endow Iowa application as quickly as possible. Donors who do not receive tax credits in the year the gift is made will be first in line for the new supply of the next tax year’s credits. (Here’s the 2019 Endow Iowa Tax Credit Application.)

There is also a cap on Endow Iowa tax credit per individual. Tax credits of 25% of the gifted amount are limited to $300,000 in tax credits per individual for a gift of $1.2 million, or $600,000 in tax credits per couple for a gift of $2.4 million (if both are Iowa taxpayers). (Since the inception of the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program, Iowa Community Foundations have leveraged more than $215 million in permanent endowment fund gifts!)

IRS Requirements for Non-Cash Gifts

Additionally, to receive a charitable deduction for non-cash gifts of more than $5,000, you need a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser,” two terms with very specific meanings to the IRS. You need to engage the right professionals to be sure all requirements are met. A notable exception to the appraisal requirement is appreciated long-term, publicly traded stock.

Advice Needs to be Individualized

Finally, all individuals, families, businesses, and farms are unique and have unique tax issues. This article is presented for informational purposes only, not as tax advice or legal advice. Make a fast break to consult a legal professional for personal advice.


All of this can be a bit confusing as you’re working out your planned giving strategy. Do not hesitate to contact me and we can work together to maximize your tax-wise giving.

private foundation board meeting

When you first read the headline to this blog post you might have been (rightfully) confused. A private foundation is a type of 501(c)(3), so isn’t this type of nonprofit tax-exempt from federal income tax? This is just one of the nuances of private foundations that can make forming and managing them complicated. Previously I’ve covered other aspects about the private foundation that are important for foundation leaders to understand including avoiding jeopardizing investments, prohibited grants, self-dealing, and payout requirements. Today let’s shine the learning spotlight on excise taxes.

Tax Exempt, But…

Even though private foundations are exempt from income tax, they are subject to an annual 2% excise tax on the income they earn on their net investment income. (This is often referred to as the private foundation excise tax.) The purpose of collecting this revenue is to fund IRS oversight of the nonprofit sector.

Can you Reduce the Tax?

In certain circumstances, the excise tax can be reduced to 1%. The tax is reduced in situations where a foundation’s distributions (measured as a percentage of assets) in a given tax year exceed the average payout rate of the foundation over the preceding five years, by an amount at least as much as the 1% tax savings the foundation will obtain. This is called the “maintenance of effort test” and was implemented to make certain that tax savings are being used for added charitable expenditures as opposed to being “pocketed” by the foundation.

Managing & Administering

Managing and administering the private foundation excise tax can be difficult and complicated, particularly because of the two-tier tax structure. This can also be challenging in decision-making because it somewhat discourages foundations to consider increasing gift for unanticipated grants, such as in the case of a natural disaster or other relief efforts. To comply with the private foundation excise tax requires staff to constantly monitor and adjust spending and savings in order to calculate the correct tax rate.

How to Prepare Your Private Foundation

I highly recommend enlisting an attorney well-versed in private foundation operations in order to stay on top all requirement and avoid detrimental missteps. You may also want to consider implementing training for foundation board members. It’s also a good idea to implement sound policies and procedures and update them when necessary as the foundation evolves and circumstances change.

Questions? Want to learn more about how to make certain your private foundation is set up for success from the start? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consultation. You can also download my free, no-obligation nonprofit formation guide!

The #SweetSixteen is a time of celebration for teams which made the elite group. Similarly, with charitable gift annuities (CGAs), donors can experience the joy of giving to their favorite causes. But, unlike making the Sweet Sixteen, CGAs aren’t hard, they are relatively easy to understand and execute. Also unlike the Sweet Sixteen, CGA donors don’t have to be part of an elite group; all donors, regardless of income, or class, or status, can enjoy the many benefits CGAs offer.

ABCs of CGAs

A CGA is easy to understand, about as easy as a fast break lay-up. A CGA, put simply, is a contract. Specifically, a CGA is a contract in which a charity agrees to pay a fixed amount of money to one or two individuals for their lifetime(s), in return for a transfer of assets (such as, say, cash, stocks, or farmland).

A person who receives payments is called an “annuitant” or “beneficiary.” After the annuitant(s) die(s), or the term of the contract ends, the charity keeps the remainder of the gift.

Sixteen Sweet Benefits of a CGA

Before we go deep into CGAs, I’ve listed 16 key advantages of CGAs.

  1. CGAs are simple to execute.
  2. CGAs are (relatively) easy to understand and explain.
  3. CGAs avoid management responsibilities.
  4. CGAs may be executed during lifetime (called an inter vivos transfer), or by operation of a will (called a testamentary transfer).
  5. CGAs allow a donor to provide a consistent stream of income for others.
  6. CGAs pay lifetime income to one or two individuals, part of which is (most often) a return of principal and free from income tax.
  7. CGAs provide an immediate income tax charitable deduction for the donor for the gift portion.
  8. When appreciated property (such as stock or real estate) is provided to fund a CGA, and the donor is an annuitant, some of the capital gain is spread over the donor’s life expectancy, and the rest is never recognized because it is attributed to the gift portion.
  9. Depending on all the circumstances, CGAs can possibly save a donor taxes on Social Security benefits.
  10. The income payout from CGAs can begin immediately or can be deferred.
  11. The income payout from CGAs is guaranteed.
  12. The income payout from CGAs is fixed (e.g., same amount is paid each payment period).
  13. The charity’s obligation to make the income payout is backed by the general assets of the charity.
  14. For some donors, especially in today’s low-interest environment, CGAs may present an attractive alternative to CDs.
  15. In certain situations, CGAs can supplement retirement income.
  16. CGAs provide the joy of giving to your favorite causes.

basketball court with ball in hoop

Three More Points on the Scoreboard—Three Types of CGA Agreements

1. Immediate Gift Annuity

Under an immediate gift annuity, the annuitant(s) start(s) receiving payments at the start/end of the payment period immediately following the contribution. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

2. Deferred Gift Annuity

Under a deferred payment gift annuity, the annuitant(s) start(s) receiving payments at a future time, the date chosen by the donor, which must be more than one year after the date of the contribution. As with immediate gift annuities, payments can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

3. Flexible Annuity

Under a Flexible Gift Annuity (also known as a Deferred Payment Gift Annuity), the donor need not choose the payment starting date at the time of her contribution. The annuitant (who, remember, may or may not be the donor) can choose the payment starting date based on their retirement date or other considerations.

Jump Ball—Choosing Start Date of Deferred CGA

Under an immediate gift annuity, annuity payments begin no later than one year after the initial contribution.

A deferred gift annuity allows the donor to delay the start date of annuity payments. This delay will increase the annuity amount when payments begin and result in a larger income tax charitable deduction which is available in the year of the contribution (subject, as are all charitable donations, to Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limits).

A deferred gift annuity can produce current tax savings during high-earning years while creating a supplemental retirement income. Generally, the donor sets a date for the deferred gift annuity to begin. However, the IRS approved a deferred gift annuity which did not specify a fixed starting date for the annuity payments [IRS Ltr. Rul. 9743054].

Don’t Foul Out—Charities Issuing CGAs Must Follow Certain Rules

CGAs are an exception to the general rule that charities cannot issue commercial insurance contracts. As such, charities which issue CGAs must comply with several rules. The basics of the rules may be simplified as follows:

  • The present value of the annuity must be less than 90 percent of the total value of the property transferred in exchange for the annuity. In other words, the charitable interest must be at least 10 percent.
  • The annuity cannot be payable over more than two lives, and the individual(s) must be alive at the time the gift annuity is set up.
  • The gift annuity agreement cannot specify a guaranteed minimum, nor a maximum, number of annuity payments.
  • The actual income produced by the property transferred in exchange for the gift annuity cannot affect the amount of the annuity payments.

Four Point Play—Tax Advantages

In basketball, a four-point play is a rare occasion when a player makes a three-point shot while being fouled. Similarly, it is rare for a charitable gift to offer four potential tax advantages to donors, as the CGA does. The CGA can have a positive effect on the donor’s charitable deductions, income taxes, capital gains taxes, and gift taxes.

slam dunk with a basketballFederal Income Tax Charitable Deduction

A CGA is considered part gift and part sale, as the donor contributes property in exchange for annuity payments from the charity. The donor who itemizes deductions on her taxes may take an income tax charitable deduction for the gift portion (i.e., the value of the transferred property minus the present value of the annuity).

This income tax charitable deduction is subject to the same limits as an outright gift of cash or property. For example, if cash is transferred for the CGA, the limitation of the deduction is 50 percent of the donor’s AGI. Or, if long-term capital gain property is transferred the limitation is 30 percent of AGI. Any deduction in excess of the applicable percentage limitation may be carried forward for five years.

Taxation of Payouts

The annuity payments by the charity under a CGA are treated for income tax purposes as follows:

  1. Tax-free return of principal
  2. Long-term capital gain
  3. Ordinary income

Let’s break each of these categories down.

Tax-Free Return of Principal

A portion of each payment received by the donor, or another annuitant, is a tax-free return of principal until the cost of the annuity is fully recovered when the annuitant reaches life expectancy. Put another way, a portion of the payments is considered to be a partial tax-free return of the donor’s gift, which are spread in equal payments over the life expectancy of the annuitant(s).

The assumed cost of the annuity does not include the gift portion of the transaction. The donor’s cost basis must be allocated between the gift and sale portions in accordance with the respective proportions of the value of the property transferred.

Long-Term Capital Gain

When a taxpayer sells long-term, appreciated property, such as stocks or real estate, she generally pays capital gains on the appreciation. If long-term, appreciated property funds a CGA, a portion of each payment will be taxed as long-term capital gain. This will reduce the income tax-free return of the principal portion of the annuity payments.

Under general tax rules, long-term capital gain is recognized in the year the property is sold. Capital gain is recognized only on the sale portion of the transaction and with the basis allocation previously described. However, with a CGA, the donor may spread the gain over life expectancy, assuming either a sole annuitant or the donor has another individual named as a survivor annuitant. It’s obviously beneficial for a donor to be able to defer capital gains taxes.

Ordinary Income

After the capital gain and tax-free portions of the annuity payment have been determined, the balance of the payment will be taxed as ordinary income.

Gift and Estate Taxation

If the donor is the sole annuitant, there are no gift or estate tax issues because both the annuity is her own and the annuity terminates at death. If the donor names anyone other than herself as an annuitant, gift and estate tax issues may arise.

Regarding the gift tax, if the donor names another person as an annuitant, the gift is the value of the annuity. An exception exists for a spouse under the gift tax marital deduction. Another alternative to avoid gift tax: the donor could retain the right to revoke when the named annuitant has a survivor interest.

Regarding the estate tax, if the donor names another person as an annuitant, the remaining value in the annuity is considered part of the donor’s estate. An exception exists for a joint annuity using only the donor’s life as the measuring life. Of course, there is also an estate tax marital deduction available if surviving annuitant is a spouse.

Low-Interest Rates = Higher Tax-Free Income

The Applicable Federal Rate (AFR) selection decision is more nuanced for gift annuities than for other planned gift tools. A donor who wants to maximize their deduction will select the highest rate available, but this reduces the overall value of the annuity and increases the amount of the charitable gift. Conversely, a donor who wants to maximize the income tax-free portion of the annuity payments will select the lowest available rate.

When the Clock Runs Out—Testamentary CGAs

If carefully planned, it is possible to arrange a CGA through a will. The IRS approved a testamentary gift annuity in Ltr. Rul. 8506089. It is crucial that both the bequest amount and annuity payout are made clear by the terms of the will.

A donor should engage an expert estate planning expert to handle the careful drafting needed for a testamentary CGA. A donor, together with his estate plan professional, should address two issues:

  1. What if the designated annuitant(s) predecease(s) the testator? (The testator is the person who makes the will).

The donor may want to specify a contingent annuitant or provide for an outright bequest to the charity.

2.    What about the payout rate?

The donor could (or should) leave the charity some flexibility in the payout rate, to assure the 10 percent minimum charitable interest requirement can be met in the future.

Winning Point

Donors and nonprofits can both score big with CGAs and this charitable tool can be a slam dunk for all parties!


The mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. is to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa. I offer training on complex gifts, like CGAs, for nonprofit boards, staff, and stakeholders. Contact me for a free one-hour consultation; I can always be reached at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or at 515-371-6077.

sport tickets

Tax Day is fast approaching, which can be a blessing or curse depending on your situation and profession). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), passed in 2017, made some major changes to the deduction for charitable contributions and the 2018 tax year is the first year these provisions apply. To make it even a bit more confusing, Iowa has not conformed to all of the federal changes to the charitable contribution deduction for state tax purposes. Because there are many aspects of the new tax law that impact charitable giving let’s take this piece by piece and focus on one specific provision regarding college sports ticket rights.

Before the tax code overhaul, donations made to nonprofit universities/colleges in exchange for the direct or indirect right to purchase seats at athletic events were 80% deductible as a charitable contribution on itemized taxes. Since the late ’80s (under theTechnical Corrections Act of 1988), colleges have used this tax code provision to incentivize donors’ gifts and modeled the practice after seat licenses in pro sports. However, this was a costly provision; this tax break was apparently costing the U.S. Treasury at least $100 million a year (at the time of estimation in 2012), and possibly as much as $1 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Federal Tax Change: Deduction Repealed

In the post-TCJA world, this deduction is now repealed. So, what do you need to know? If you make a donation to a university in exchange for a receipt that gives you the ability to purchase certain seats (think the 50-yard line at Kinnick Stadium!), this charitable gift is no longer tax deductible at the 80% rate on your federal income taxes. Of course, you can still elect to make valuable, qualified charitable donations to your alma mater or other favorite higher education institution, but college sports fans can’t claim a tax break specifically made to secure college sports season tickets.

State of Iowa Taxes: Deduction Remains

However, Iowa sports fans cans still cheer, because Iowa did not parallel the federal repeal. Individuals can still deduct 80% of a qualifying contribution for those Cyclone, Panther, Bulldog, or Hawkeye seats to the extent it does not exceed the individual’s applicable adjusted gross income deduction limitation on state income taxes. Keep in mind, of course, you will need to itemize to claim the deduction.

Still have questions about how to maximize contributions to your favorite college or university (for athletic seats or otherwise)? We can work out a plan so that you can meet your charitable giving goals in a tax-wise manner. I offer a free, no-obligation consult, so don’t hesitate to contact me.

four leaf clover

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, pour yourself a pint and read up on some simple, yet smart, charitable giving strategies. Whether you want to support the great work of an Oscar Wilde literary foundation or an Irish heritage association, tools and benefits that align with your charitable giving goals can help to stretch your green and make a difference in the causes you care about.

Top O’ the Morning Giving: Now Rather than Later

It’s been said, “you should be giving while you are living, so you’re knowing where it’s going,” so let’s explore a few options in the case of a hypothetical Irish Iowan, Sinead O’Sullivan.

Sinead O’Sullivan intends to donate to charity eventually, at death through her will and estate plan. But why not give now? Sinead can have more say about the use of gifts while she’s alive, and also feel the joy that comes with helping worthy causes. There are also positive tax benefits for Sinead to give now rather than later. Let’s look at these potential positive tax benefits.

green beer

Faith and Begorrah: Double Federal Tax Benefit!

Gifts of long-term capital assets, such as stock, real estate, and farmland (where leprechauns may live!), can receive a double federal tax benefit.

First, Sinead can receive an immediate charitable deduction off federal income tax, equal to the fair market value of the stock, real estate, or farmland. Even with the increased standard deduction under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this is still a valuable consideration give the value of charitable donation would exceed the standard deduction. (It would be especially beneficially if Sinead is considering “bunching” as a tax saving strategy.)

Second, assuming Sinead owned the asset for more than one year when the asset is donated, Sinead can avoid the long-term capital gain taxes which would have been owed if the asset was sold.

Guinness door

Let’s look at a concrete example to make this clearer. Sinead owns shares of publicly-traded stock in Diageo (Guinness‘ parent producer and distributor company), with a fair market value of $100,000. She wants her stock to help her favorite causes. Which would be better for Sinead (a single taxpayer) to do—sell the stock and donate the cash, or give the stock directly to her favorite charities? Assume the stock was originally purchased at $20,000 (basis), Sinead’s federal income tax rate is 37%, and her capital gains tax rate is 16%.

Donating cash versus donating long-term capital gain assets  Donating cash proceeds after sale of stock Donating stock
Value of gift $100,000 $100,000
Federal income tax charitable deduction ($37,000) ($37,000)
Federal capital gains tax savings $0 ($16,000)
Out-of-pocket cost of gift $63,000 $47,000

NOTE: ABOVE TABLE IS FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY. ONLY YOUR OWN FINANCIAL OR TAX ADVISOR CAN ADVISE IN THESE MATTERS.

Again, a gift of long-term capital assets, such as stocks, real estate, or farmland, made during lifetime, can be doubly beneficial. Sinead can receive a federal income tax charitable deduction equal to the fair market value of the asset and also avoid capital gains tax.

In Iowa, however, there is an even more potential tax benefit.

Saints Preserve Us: 25% Iowa Tax Credit

Under the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program, gifts made during lifetime can be eligible for a 25% tax credit. There are only three requirements to qualify.

  1. The gift must be given to, or receipted by, a qualified Iowa community foundation (there’s a local community foundation near you).
  2. The gift must be made to an Iowa charity.
  3. The gift must be endowed – that is, a permanent gift. Under Endow Iowa, no more than 5% of the gift can be granted each year – the rest is held by, and invested by, your local community foundation.

Let’s look again at the case of Sinead, who is donating stock per the table above. If Sinead makes an Endow Iowa qualifying gift, the tax savings are very dramatic. There are potentially huge tax benefits of donating long-term capital gain assets, such as stocks, real estate, and farmland while claiming the Endow Iowa Tax Credit:

Value of gift $100,000
Federal income tax charitable deduction ($37,000)
Federal capital gains tax savings ($16,000)
Endow Iowa Tax Credit ($25,000)
Out-of-pocket cost of gift $22,000

NOTE: ABOVE TABLE IS FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY. ONLY YOUR OWN FINANCIAL OR TAX ADVISOR CAN ADVISE IN THESE MATTERS.

Put another way, Sinead made a gift of $100,000 to her favorite charity, but the out-of-pocket cost of the gift to her was less than $25,000.

This is a great deal for Sinead and a great deal for Sinead’s favorite tax-exempt organizations. But, to be a smart donor you must also of course consider the potential areas of caution as well as the benefits.

Cautionary Ballads

The federal income tax charitable deduction is capped. Generally, the federal charitable deduction for gifts of stock, real estate, and farmland is limited to 30% of adjusted gross income. A taxpayer may, however, carry forward any unused deduction amount for an additional five years.

Additionally, records are required to obtain a federal income tax charitable deduction. The more the charitable deduction, the more detailed the recording requirements. For example, to receive a charitable deduction for certain gifts of more than $5,000, you need a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser,” two terms with very specific meanings to the IRS. It’s a wise idea to engage the right financial and legal professionals to be sure all requirements are met.

Endow Iowa Tax Credits are also capped – both statewide and per individual. Iowa sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa Tax Credits, and it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Submitting an application at the beginning of the tax year is advised, as tax credits often run out toward year’s end. In fact, this year approximately $6 million in tax credits were awarded and there are no more available credits to be granted. However, you can submit your application to be placed on the waitlist for 2020 tax credits.

Endow Iowa also has a cap per individual. Tax credits of 25% of the gifted amount are limited to $300,000 in tax credits per individual for a gift of $1.2 million, or $600,000 in tax credits per couple for a gift of $2.4 million.

Finally, all individuals, families, businesses, and farms are unique and have unique tax issues.  This article is presented for informational purposes only, not as tax advice or legal advice. Consult your own professional for personal advice.

Sláinte!

rainbow

Our case study subject, Sinead, found the pot o’ gold at the end of the charitable giving rainbow by working with a qualified attorney who specializes in complex donations. You may not be in the same tax bracket as Sinead or have stocks valued at the same rate, but regardless, I would recommend to all donors with large gifts (especially assets of the non-cash variety). Want to discuss your giving goals and options for long-term capital assets? I offer a free consult to all, so don’t hesitate to contact me.

march madness basketball

Want to help make your favorite charity a winner? Encourage the charity to discuss the potential of charitable gifts of non-cash assets with donors. Donee charities can gain access to what has been called prospective donors’ “treasure chest” of non-cash assets. After all, the vast majority of a potential donor’s net worth will not be in cash, but in non-cash assets such as a home, retirement benefit plan, life insurance, etc.

Inspired by the start of NCAA March Madness, and the number of bracketed teams, here are 64 non-cash assets that could be used for charitable gifting.

Please note the alphabetized listing, I’m not recommending one gift over another, since so much depends on the individual circumstances of the donor.

airplane flying

  1. Airplanes
  2. Antique Automobiles
  3. Antiques
  4. Artwork
  5. Assets held by C Corporation
  6. Assets held by S Corporation
  7. Autograph Books
  8. Barn Doors
  9. Beach House
  10. Beanie Babies
  11. Boats
  12. Bonds
  13. Books
  14. C Corporation Stock
  15. Coin collections
  16. Comic books collection
  17. Commercial and residential real estate
  18. Condominiums
  19. Credit Card Rebates
  20. Depression-era Glass
  21. Dolls
  22. Enamelware
  23. Equestrian Ribbons
  24. Farmland
  25. Gold Bullion
  26. Grain
  27. Guitars
  28. Hedge Fund Carried Interest
  29. Historic Papers
  30. Installment Notes
  31. Intellectual Property
  32. Life Insurance
  33. Limited Liability Partnerships
  34. Livestock
  35. Marbles
  36. Mineral Rights
  37. MLB Team
  38. Mutual Funds
  39. Oil and Gas Interests
  40. Operating Partnership Units
  41. Paint-by-number Landscapes
  42. Painted Planks
  43. Paintings
  44. Patents
  45. Photographs
  46. Pooled Income Funds
  47. Racehorses
  48. Real estate
  49. Restricted Stock (144 and 145)
  50. Retained Life Estate
  51. Retirement benefits
  52. Royalties
  53. S Corporation Stock
  54. Sculpture
  55. Sculpture Garden
  56. Seat on New York Mercantile Stock Exchange
  57. Seats at Events
  58. Stamp Collection
  59. Stocks
  60. Tangible Personal Property
  61. Taxidermy
  62. Timber Deeds
  63. Vacation Home
  64. Vehicles

Vintage blue car

Pretty exhaustive list right? Like stamps and dolls, there are so many assets that you likely never even considered could be a charitable gift. And, that’s where I come in and can assist! If you’re a donor or donee nonprofit do not ever hesitate to contact me. I can always be reached at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and 515-371-6077.