Unique Gift Ideas that Benefit You Too
You may associate the month of December with giving holiday gifts, but it is also a great time for you to think about the valuable estate planning opportunity presented by year-end gift giving. In making lifetime gifts, you can experience the pleasure of providing immediate benefits to your loved ones while shaping your legacy, for example, by funding a loved one’s education or starting a family tradition of charitable giving. There are several advantageous ways for you to make year-end gifts.
1. Direct payment of medical expenses. You can make an unlimited number of tax-free gifts by paying your loved ones’ medical expenses. These gifts should be made directly to the medical providers rather than to your family members or friends. In addition, it is important to verify that the payments are for expenses that would qualify as deductible itemized medical expenses on the tax return of the individual receiving the healthcare.
2. Direct payment of tuition. Similar to paying medical expenses, you can also pay for your loved ones’ tuition. There is no limit on the amount of tax-free gifts or restrictions on who can benefit from them, but payments must be made directly to the educational institution, not to the parents or students themselves. The payments must fall within the Internal Revenue Code’s definition of “tuition,” which is not limited to college or graduate school tuition, but also includes private school tuition for younger students. It does not include payments for living expenses, books, or other fees, however.
3. Charitable gifts on behalf of or in honor of a loved one. If you are charitably inclined or want to honor a loved one by donating to their favorite charity, a year-end contribution to a qualified organization will also enable you to claim a charitable deduction. You must keep records of any contribution, and you may need to obtain written acknowledgment from the charity to deduct a contribution of cash or property. There are additional requirements for larger gifts of property. You can claim charitable deductions during your lifetime or your estate can claim it when you pass away, depending upon the strategy you use. We can help you determine the best strategy for your unique circumstances.
Your Best Gift
The best gift you can provide for your loved ones is to have all of your affairs in order. Please contact us if we can help you create or update a comprehensive estate plan that will help provide for your loved ones through thoughtful lifetime gifts and after you pass away.
Have You Made New Year’s Resolutions?
A new year is a great time to start fresh and implement positive changes that will enhance our lives. Many of us want to lose weight, spend more time with friends and family, eat healthier, learn a new skill, or save money. Although we can implement these goals anytime, the beginning of the new year is often a good starting point to help us measure our progress.
There are pros and cons to setting New Year’s resolutions, and people have varying opinions about their helpfulness. People who have a favorable attitude towards New Year’s resolutions often point out the following benefits:
- Having goals provides people with a sense of purpose and a positive, forward-looking perspective.
- If you do not set goals, it is axiomatic that you will not achieve them!
- Accomplishing a goal—or at least making significant progress—provides a sense of satisfaction.
Others point out the following cons of New Year’s resolutions:
- The initial motivation generally wanes over time, making failure likely.
- Not keeping them could lead to a feeling of failure or shame.
- They reflect dissatisfaction with oneself or one’s life circumstances.
If you have decided that New Year’s resolutions are helpful to you, think about goals that can provide significant security for yourself and your family. Although they may not be the first New Year’s resolutions that come to mind, there are several steps that you can take that will benefit your family.
1. Choose a guardian. If you are a parent, create a plan to ensure that your children are cared for if you or the other legal parent are unable to care for them by naming a person you trust to be their guardian. If you do not choose someone to serve as a guardian, a court will appoint someone for you—and it may not be the person you would have chosen. Designate the person you choose in your will or in a separate document, if your state allows for it.
2. Create medical and financial powers of attorney. If you are unable to communicate or make your own medical or financial decisions, your agent under a power of attorney can step in and make decisions on your behalf. Even if you are married, it is still prudent to appoint an agent to act for you because your spouse may not be able to step in for you depending on the situation. If you want your spouse to be your agent, you must have medical and financial powers of attorney prepared. This will help your spouse or other loved one avoid the stress of having to go to court to be appointed as your guardian.
3. Have enough life insurance. If you pass away, will the proceeds of your current life insurance policy provide adequate funds for your loved ones? It is important to regularly evaluate whether your coverage is sufficient, particularly if you have had another child. If you do not have life insurance, one of your New Year’s resolutions should be to ensure that this gap in your planning is filled.
4. Establish a plan for your money and property. Have you decided who you would like to inherit your money and property when you pass away? If you do not have a written estate plan, your money and property will go to individuals specified in your state’s statute instead of to the beneficiaries you choose. You should create a will, which is a document that states how you would like your money and property to be distributed at your death and the individuals (or organizations if you would like to give to a charity) who you would like to receive it. Alternatively, many people create trusts to hold their money and property on their behalf and on behalf of their beneficiaries and which specifies when and to whom the money and property should be distributed. Trusts provide privacy because, unlike wills, the trust documents do not become public record during probate proceedings. In addition, a trust can protect your beneficiaries from unwise spending and creditors.
Let Us Help You Keep Your Resolutions
We can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that will fulfill all of your goals and provide you and your loved ones with substantial peace of mind. Please give us a call to discuss how we can assist you in creating the best plan for you as you enter the new year.
Different Types of Charitable Giving
The end of the year is a great time for you to think about donating to charity. Donations not only aptly express the generosity associated with the holiday season, but they help worthy organizations and allow you to save on taxes by claiming a charitable deduction. While most people think of donating cash or financial accounts, donating property can be advantageous as well.
Many organizations accept donations of cars, even if they do not currently run, and some will also take donations of other types of vehicles such as recreational vehicles, trucks, or motorcycles. You should transfer the title of the car to the charity and remove the license plate and registration. For the donation to be tax deductible, the charity receiving the donation must be a 501(c)(3) organization. You should obtain a written acknowledgement of the donation from the charity. If the charity sells the vehicle, the deduction should generally be for the charity’s gross proceeds from the sale, but under some circumstances, a deduction can be claimed for the car’s fair market value (i.e., the amount it could be sold for in the open market by a willing seller to a willing buyer) on the date that it is donated. However, if the written acknowledgment indicates that the donated vehicle sold for $500 or less, you can claim a deduction for the lesser of the vehicle’s fair market value on the date it was donated or $500.
Donations of household items such as furniture, appliances, books, and clothing to a 501(c)(3) organization are eligible for a charitable deduction of their fair market value on the date of the donation. Donated household goods and clothing must be in good used condition to be eligible for a deduction based on its fair market value. If they are not in good condition, you must attach a qualified appraisal and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8283, Section B to your tax return to claim a deduction of $500 or more.
If you have materials left over after building a new house or old cabinets or fixtures after a remodeling project, you can donate them to a 501(c)(3) organization that helps families build affordable homes or sells donated materials to raise money for a charitable cause. Like household items, the amount of the deduction is the fair market value of the building materials on the date they are donated.
We Can Help
Charitable organizations often operate tight budgets and count on year-end donations to continue their missions. You can benefit a charity and possibly lower your tax bill by donating your old car or leftover building materials before the end of the year. However, keep in mind that you can deduct charitable donations only if you itemize deductions on Schedule A of your IRS Form 1040. Even if you do not itemize your deductions, making a charitable contribution is worthwhile because it is an opportunity to benefit those in need. If you would like to discuss how to make gifts that both fulfill your charitable goals and benefit your family by lowering your taxes, please contact us.