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

Now that the gift and estate tax exemption has reached a record high of $11.18 million (for 2018), it may seem that gifting assets to loved ones is less important than it was in previous years. However, lifetime gifts continue to provide significant benefits, whether your estate is taxable or not.

Let’s examine three reasons why making gifts remains an important part of estate planning:

1. Lifetime gifts reduce estate taxes. If your estate exceeds the exemption amount — or you believe it will in the future — regular lifetime gifts can substantially reduce your estate tax bill.

The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to give up to $15,000 per recipient ($30,000 if you “split” gifts with your spouse) tax-free without using up any of your gift and estate tax exemption. In addition, direct payments of tuition or medical expenses on behalf of your loved ones are excluded from gift tax.

Taxable gifts — that is, gifts beyond the annual exclusion amount and not eligible for the tuition and medical expense exclusion — can also reduce estate tax liability by removing future appreciation from your taxable estate. You may be better off paying gift tax on an asset’s current value rather than estate tax on its appreciated value down the road.

When gifting appreciable assets, however, be sure to consider the potential income tax implications. Property transferred at death receives a “stepped-up basis” equal to its date-of-death fair market value, which means the recipient can turn around and sell the property free of capital gains taxes. Property transferred during life retains your tax basis, so it’s important to weigh the estate tax savings against the potential income tax costs.

2. Tax laws aren’t permanent. Even if your estate is within the exemption amount now, it pays to make regular gifts. Why? Because even though the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the exemption amount, and that amount will be adjusted annually for inflation, the doubling expires after 2025. Without further legislation, the exemption will return to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026.

Thus, taxpayers with estates in roughly the $6 million to $11 million range (twice that for married couples), whose estates would escape estate taxes if they were to die while the doubled exemption is in effect, still need to keep potential post-2025 estate tax liability in mind in their estate planning.

3. Gifts provide nontax benefits. Tax planning aside, there are other reasons to make lifetime gifts. For example, perhaps you wish to use gifting to shape your family members’ behavior — for example, by providing gifts to those who attend college. And if you own a business, gifts of interests in the business may be a key component of your ownership and management succession plan. Or you might simply wish to see your loved ones enjoy the gifts.

Regardless of the amount of your wealth, consider a program of regular lifetime giving. We can help you devise and incorporate a gifting program as part of your estate plan, call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA