IRAs to Charity: A Useful Estate Planning Technique

Make your favorite charity a beneficiary of your IRAsSave taxes with this smart estate planning strategy

If you’re like many people, you have a great deal of your wealth tied up in traditional IRA accounts. Why? The tax-free benefits have motivated you. But there’s going to come a time when you—or your heirs—will have to pay taxes on this money. Instead of worrying about what you’re going to do about that, you can follow a tax-saving strategy that considers designating your favorite charity or charities as beneficiaries of all or a portion of your IRAs. Then you can leave other assets to family members and other heirs.

IRAs and estate taxes

Your IRAs are considered part of your estate when you die, which means they are subject to estate taxes. Although very few people are subject to the federal estate tax, some states have lower thresholds for estate taxes. Also, your heirs will have to eventually withdraw the funds, and typically will pay income tax. This could be substantial, if your heirs are already in a high bracket.

Fortunately, there’s a tax-smart solution: leave some or all of your IRA to charitable beneficiaries while leaving other assets to heirs of your choice. Leaving money directly to charities by designating them as account beneficiaries is very tax-efficient. First, it avoids estate tax, since the IRA is removed from your estate. Second, there’s no federal income tax due on IRA money. (You may get a state tax break too.) No income taxes are due when your favorite tax-exempt charities make withdrawals from the IRAs.

This strategy allows you to leave more to your favorite charities and more to your loved ones while keeping as much as possible from the IRS.

Leave Roth IRAs to your loved ones

One final word, however. This strategy generally applies to traditional IRAs. Naming a charity as the beneficiary of your Roth IRA is generally inadvisable. Leave Roth balances to your loved ones by designating them as account beneficiaries. Why? As long as your Roth IRA has been open for more than five years before withdrawals are taken, all withdrawals will be federal income tax-free since the money went in after taxes. But if you leave Roth IRA money to charity, this tax break is wasted. (Roth IRA inheritance rules differ from the rules for traditional IRAs in several key ways.)

Looking at the Big Picture

Of course, this is just part of your estate plan, and there are lots of complexities. A giving strategy that makes sense for one family may not be appropriate for another. Also, the new tax law has changed the scenario for many.  Finally, there are various limits and provisions you should be aware of before you proceed.

The bottom line? Talk to a qualified financial professional about your charitable goals and any traditional or Roth IRAs you have in order to take care of both your family and your designated nonprofits in as efficient a way as possible.

We’ve got your back on estate planning

It’s never too early to start thinking about estate planning. KRS CPAs offers unbiased financial and tax guidance to help you realize your specific goals and vision. Contact KRS managing partner Maria Rollins at [email protected] or 201.655.7411 to discuss your situation.