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Retirement Benefit plans helping charity

Much of Iowans’ wealth can be found in retirement benefit accounts, like IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and so on. Funds from retirement benefit plans can be easy and tax-savvy ways for you to support your favorite causes and organizations!

IRA Charitable Rollover

The Individual Retirement Account (IRA) charitable rollover allows individuals aged 70.5 years of age and older to donate up to $100,000 from their IRAs directly to charities, without having to count the distributions as taxable income. This gift transfer is called a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).

To be clear, there are two threshold requirements to take advantage of the IRA charitable rollover. The first is that to be eligible you must be 70.5 years of age or older. An important nuance to note is the required annual distribution is based on the year the participant reaches age 70.5, not the day they reach that age.

The second threshold requirement is the IRA charitable rollover applies to IRAs only. Under the lawcharitable gifts can only be made from traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs. The IRA charitable rollover does not apply to 403(b) plans, 401(k) plans, pension plans, and other retirement benefit plans.

What about younger donors, or people who have different, unique, kind of retirement benefit plans? There are at least a couple of good alternatives to consider.

Required Minimum Distributions

Generally, an account holder must start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) after age 70½. And, sometimes, much younger folks must take RMDs when they inherit a retirement benefit account. If you’re already having to take RMDs, why not use those funds to support your favorite charity?

There is a (pretty severe) tax penalty if you withdraw funds from a retirement benefit plan too early. But, generally speaking, individuals over 59½ years of age may withdraw funds from retirement plans without any penalty. So, in such cases, a donor can withdraw funds, make a gift with these funds, and then claim an offsetting federal income tax charitable deduction. Keeping in mind that every donor’s situation is unique, in the clear majority of such cases, a charitable gift made in this manner would at the least be tax neutral for the donor.

Beneficiary Designations

No matter what age, no matter what type of retirement benefit plan, there is a very easy way for you to help your favorite charity. Simply name the charity as the beneficiary!

It’s been my experience that many folks don’t consider or realize they can make a meaningful gift by naming a nonprofit as the beneficiary of IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or another plan. This is simple and does not require drafting a will or testamentary trust. (It is true that if the account holder is married, the spouse should be informed and may have to consent to gift).

Keep Beneficiary Designations Current

This is a good time for a  reminder to check your beneficiary designations not only on your retirement benefit plan but on ALL such accounts or funds. Savings accounts, checking accounts, mutual funds, stock portfolios, annuity contracts—all these have beneficiary designations (also sometimes called “payable on death” or “transfer on death”). Are your beneficiary designations current? Or is there an ex-spouse still named as a beneficiary on your IRA? Make sure to keep your beneficiary designations current, and while doing so, consider naming our favorite nonprofits as beneficiary. Your gift could make a tremendous difference.

Contact Me

Of course, there’s always much more to be discussed when it comes to charitable giving. I would love to hear your ideas and charitable giving goals. Don’t hesitate to contact me by phone at 515-371-6077, or email, Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Investment stones

With regard to charitable giving, not all assets are equal. For tax reasons, some assets may be better to pass on to heirs, while others may be better to give to your favorite causes. Consider the potential tax treatment of retirement benefit plans such as IRAs, 401(k)s, etc. A simple story illustrates why, for example, an IRA may make a better charitable gift, while other assets may be better for heirs, based on tax provisions.

Old Man Lear and his Four Beneficiaries

Consider the simple story of old man Lear and his four beloved daughters: Cordelia, Goneril, Regan, and Ashlee. (Feel free to take a break and go brush up on your King Lear!)Lear, no fool, engages in estate planning with the intention of helping each of his daughters in the future. He has four major assets: his house, stock, a painting, and his IRA. Each asset is worth roughly the same (plus/minus just a few dollars).

four sisters

  • Lear’s house is worth $100,003. He purchased it for only $20,000.
  • Lear owns shares of stock in Acme Company, valued at $100,002. He bought the stock for just $50,000.
  • Lear has a famous painting of a castle. It’s valued at $100,009; he purchased it for $35,000.
  • Lear has dutifully paid into an IRA that’s now up to $100,020.

Nothing if not fair, Lear divvies up the four assets to each daughter. Do all four daughters get more or less the same deal?

Three Tax Concepts

Before answering, we need to consider three important tax concepts:

(1)        Inheritance as income

(2)        Income in respect of a decedent

(3)        Step-up in basis (also called, stepped up basis)

The interplay of these concepts may make charitable gifts of retirement plan assets more attractive to your clients than charitable gifts of other kind of assets.

Inheritance as Income

Under our federal income tax rules, receipt of almost every type of asset counts as income. One of the rare exceptions in inheritance of property. Generally speaking, inheritance is not income, for federal tax purposes. Most inherited property passes tax-free. (It’s true there is an Iowa inheritance tax. To keep this article simple(r), I’ll focus on federal tax).

Income in Respect of a Decedent (IRD)

Of course, with every rule in federal tax law, there’s an exception. Most inherited property passes tax-free, but not all. IRD is income that the deceased was entitled to, but had not yet received, at time of death. IRD can come from various sources, including:

(1)        Unpaid salary, fees, commissions, and/or bonuses;

(2)        Deferred compensation benefits;

(3)        Accrued but unpaid interest, dividends, and rent; and

(4)        Distributions from retirement benefit plans

That’s right – retirement benefit plans are IRD.

Federal tax law provides for IRD to be taxed when it’s distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries. IRD retains the character it would have had in the deceased’s hands.

Step-up in basis

Step-up in basis is a critically important concept. It refers to the readjustment of value of an appreciated asset for tax purposes upon inheritance. With a step-up in basis, the value of the asset is determined to be the market value of the asset at the time of inheritance, and not the value at which the original party purchased the asset.

Four Beneficiaries and Four Assets

Cordelia’s inherits the house. As we discussed, there’s no federal tax on inheritance. Cordelia sells the house for $100,003. Still, no federal tax. Although Lear purchased the house for only $20,000, recall that Cordelia receives a step up in basis. Cordelia’s basis is $100,003, the fair market value (FMV) of the house. Since she sells it for $100,003, there’s nothing to tax.

House key

When Goneril inherits the stock, there’s no tax—as there’s no taxable event. Soon, Goneril sells the stock. Although Lear purchased the stock for just $50,000, Goneril receives a step up in basis. Goneril’s basis is $100,002, the stock’s FMV. Since she sells the stock for its new stepped-up basis, there’s nothing to tax.

Stocks going up

Regan inherits the painting, with the same result. There’s no federal tax on inheritance of the painting. When Regan immediately sells the art for FMV, there’s nothing to tax, as the FMV, and step-up in basis, are the same.

Paintbrushes

How about Ashlee and the IRA? If Ashlee withdraws money from the IRA, it’s a different story. Ashlee will have to pay federal income tax of up to 39.6 percent. (It is true that Ashlee could defer withdrawals from the IRA for a long time, and of course such deferral reduces the impact of taxes.)

Ira egg in nest

To sum up, in this hypothetical, the house, stock, and art passed to the beneficiaries without any taxable event, and the daughter were able to sell without tax consequences. The IRA passed to the fourth daughter, but she will have to pay taxes when she withdraws funds.

When considering charitable gifts, also consider the tax code. And, considering talking to your kids about these issues. After all, not all assets are equally beneficial to heirs. In this case, retirement benefits plans may make an ideal gift to your favorite cause.

Magnifying glass over charity