If you’re like many Americans, letters from your favorite charities may be appearing in your mailbox acknowledging your 2020 donations. But what happens if you haven’t received such a letter — can you still claim a deduction for the gift on your 2020 income tax return? It depends.

What is required

To support a charitable deduction, you need to comply with IRS substantiation requirements. This generally includes obtaining a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation and the value of any such goods or services.

“Contemporaneous” means the earlier of:

  • The date you file your tax return, or
  • The extended due date of your return.

So if you made a donation in 2020 but haven’t yet received substantiation from the charity, it’s not too late — as long as you haven’t filed your 2020 return. Contact the charity and request a written acknowledgment.

Keep in mind that, if you made a cash gift of under $250 with a check or credit card, generally a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement is sufficient. However, if you received something in return for the donation, you generally must reduce your deduction by its value — and the charity is required to provide you a written acknowledgment as described earlier.

New deduction for non-itemizers

In general, taxpayers who don’t itemize their deductions (and instead claim the standard deduction) can’t claim a charitable deduction. Under the CARES Act, individuals who don’t itemize deductions can claim a federal income tax write-off for up to $300 of cash contributions to IRS-approved charities for the 2020 tax year. The same $300 limit applies to both unmarried taxpayers and married joint-filing couples.

Even better, this tax break was extended to cover $300 of cash contributions made in 2021 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The new law doubles the deduction limit to $600 for married joint-filing couples for cash contributions made in 2021.

2020 and 2021 deductions

Additional substantiation requirements apply to some types of donations. We can help you determine whether you have sufficient substantiation for the donations you hope to deduct on your 2020 income tax return — and guide you on the substantiation you’ll need for gifts you’re planning this year to ensure you can enjoy the desired deductions on your 2021 return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

There are two trust types that don’t require one or more human beneficiaries: charitable trusts and noncharitable purpose (NCP) trusts. A charitable trust is the more common of the two, but an NCP trust could also be a formidable tool to help achieve your estate planning goals.

Defining an NCP trust

Historically, trusts were required to have human beneficiaries. Why? Because, for a trust to be valid, there must be someone to enforce it. Charitable trusts were the exception: The attorney general of the relevant jurisdiction was authorized to enforce the trust in the public interest.

Over the years, however, many U.S. states and a number of foreign jurisdictions have enacted legislation (including provisions of the Uniform Probate Code and the Uniform Trust Code) that authorizes NCP trusts.

These trusts may be used to achieve a variety of purposes, such as caring for a pet or other animal (including its offspring); maintaining a gravesite; providing for future graveside religious ceremonies (often referred to as “honorary” trusts); maintaining art collections, antiques, automobiles, jewelry or other personal property; and funding or otherwise sustaining a family business.

A trust may be an NCP trust even if the grantor’s children or other heirs will ultimately receive trust property as “remaindermen.” Suppose, for example, that you create an NCP trust to maintain and exhibit your art collection. After a specified time period — let’s say 20 years — the trust terminates and the collection is distributed to your children. The fact that your children will receive the art once the trust has fulfilled its purpose doesn’t change its character as an NCP trust. Nor does it render the trust valid or enforceable absent an applicable NCP trust statute.

To be valid, an NCP trust must meet certain requirements. Most important, it must 1) have a purpose that’s certain, reasonable and attainable, 2) not violate public policy, and 3) be capable of enforcement. Typically, an NCP trust is enforced by a designated “enforcer” — someone whose job it is to ensure that the trust’s purpose is fulfilled and who has the authority to bring a court action — and/or a “trust protector,” who’s empowered to modify the trust when its purpose has been achieved or is no longer relevant.

Choosing the right jurisdiction 

The permitted uses of NCP trusts, as well as their duration, vary significantly from state to state, as do the powers of a trust protector or enforcer. Some states, for example, allow only pet trusts, honorary trusts or both. Other states authorize NCP trusts for most purposes, so long as they don’t violate public policy. Most states limit an NCP trust’s duration to a term of 21 years, although some permit longer terms or even “dynasty” NCP trusts of unlimited duration. Contact us for additional information.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Donating to charity is a key estate planning strategy for many people. It reduces the size of your taxable estate and it can help you leave a lasting legacy with organizations you care about.

The benefit of making such gifts during life rather than at death is that you may be eligible for an income tax deduction. Qualifying for a charitable deduction is, in some respects, a matter of form over substance. The IRS could disallow a deduction, even if it’s otherwise legitimate, if you fail to follow the substantiation requirements to the letter.

If you’ve made charitable donations in 2018, it’s wise to review the substantiation rules as you file your 2018 tax return. Here’s a quick summary of the rules:

Cash gifts under $250: Use a canceled check, receipt from the charity or “other reliable written record” showing the charity’s name and the date and amount of the gift.

Cash gifts of $250 or more: Obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the gift, whether you received any goods or services in exchange for it and, if so, a good-faith estimate of their value. An acknowledgment is “contemporaneous” if you receive it before the earlier of your tax return due date (including extensions) or the date you actually file your return. Also, there’s no need to combine separate gifts of less than $250 to the same charity (monthly contributions, for example) to determine if you’ve hit the $250 threshold for the contemporaneous written acknowledgment requirement.

Noncash gifts under $250: Get a receipt showing the charity’s name, the date and location of the donation, and a description of the property.

Noncash gifts of $250 or more: Obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity that contains the information required for cash gifts plus a description of the property. File Form 8283 if total noncash gifts exceed $500.

Noncash gifts of more than $500: In addition to the above, keep records showing the date you acquired the property, how you acquired it and your adjusted basis in it.

Noncash gifts of more than $5,000 ($10,000 for closely held stock): In addition to the above, obtain a qualified appraisal and include an appraisal summary, signed by the appraiser and the charity, with your return. (No appraisal is required for publicly traded securities.)

Noncash gifts of more than $500,000 ($20,000 for art): In addition to the above, include a copy of the signed appraisal (not the summary) with your return.

Failure to follow the substantiation rules can mean the loss of valuable tax deductions. We can help determine if you’ve properly substantiated your 2018 charitable donations. Call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA