Americans are a generous people, giving of our time and resources through donations and volunteering. Throughout our lives, we like to show support to charitable causes in our communities and our country. However, according to the article “Charitable conundrum: Why do we give up on giving at death?” from the Austin Business Journal, less than one out of nine individuals include a charitable donation as part of their estate plan.
Why do we stop supporting a charitable cause at death? We know that the causes we care about continue to have needs after we are gone. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason behind this omission is that we tend to avoid estate planning. It’s an emotional challenge, preparing in a very real way to leave the world we enjoy with our loved ones. It is not as much fun as going fly fishing or playing with the grandchildren.
Here are a few ways to include charitable giving in your estate plan, each of which you should review with an estate planning attorney.
Charitable beneficiaries. You can make a charity a partial beneficiary of a retirement account. They can be added as a primary beneficiary or as a contingent beneficiary. These changes can be made simply by contacting the custodian of the account and following their instructions for changing beneficiaries. Note that in certain states, spousal approval is required for any beneficiary changes. You can use this opportunity to also update your other beneficiaries, all as part of creating a coherent estate plan.
There is a tax benefit in doing this. Charitable beneficiaries do not have to pay income tax on retirement distributions, although individuals do. Depending on the income level of an individual beneficiary, an heir could lose more than 40% of the inherited retirement account to Federal, state and local taxes.
If it is not done properly, the addition of a charitable beneficiary may restrict the ability for family members to stretch the receipt of retirement assets over time. Consequently, you should check with your estate planning attorney to make sure your good deed does not cause a hardship for family members or other individual beneficiaries.
Create a charitable IRA of your own. Another way to use retirement funds for good is to roll some assets out of a main retirement account into a smaller retirement account with only charitable beneficiaries. Instead of consolidating accounts, you are doing the opposite, but for a good reason. This will allow you to manage the amount of money being left to the charity and take required or discretionary distributions from whichever account you choose.
Life insurance and annuities. Both of these vehicles use beneficiary designations, so the same strategy can be used for these accounts. Typically, the annuity must still be in the deferral state—not annuitized—and the life insurance contract must allow for changes to be made to the beneficiaries, which is true for most accounts. Note that life insurance proceeds are non-taxable to individuals and charities, and annuity proceeds are generally partially tax-free to individual heirs (amount of basis in the contract).
Talk with your estate planning attorney about the optimal strategies for making supporting a charitable cause a part of your estate plan. Your situation may differ, and there may be other ways to maximize the wealth that is shared with charities and with your family.
Reference: Austin Business Journal (October 2, 2019) “Charitable conundrum: Why do we give up on giving at death?”