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How your real estate assets can provide a big payoff to charity

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With the richest men in the world such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg giving away their fortunes, you may wonder whether you have similar options and what the tax benefits would be.

Chase Magnuson, director of the Planned Giving Department-Real Estate at George Washington University  and co-author of “The Secret Power Behind Real Estate Donations,” said giving away property can be tricky if not done correctly.

Nearly 2 million qualified charities “reject over $15 billion in real estate donations annually because they are unable or unwilling to assess and accept the real estate risk,” Magnuson said. But he added that when real estate agents, CPAs, property managers, appraisers, risk managers, title attorneys and other consultants “are brought onto the team, the donation success rate increases dramatically.”

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There are several strategies for giving your property away and obtaining beneficial tax treatment. An outright gift is easily accomplished and provides the maximum and earliest financial benefit for the charity, while providing you with the maximum tax benefit. You are able to deduct the gifted property’s full appraised value against 30 percent of your adjusted gross income. If you are unable to use the entire deduction in one year, you can carry that deduction forward for an additional five years.

Another strategy is the “bargain sale.” A bargain sale is when you sell your property to the charity at a price below the property’s appraised fair market value. In return, you can take a charitable deduction for the difference between the sales price and the appraised value. That deduction from this gift portion can often be used to offset the exposure to capital gains tax on the property’s sale portion.

If you wish to sell your property but do not wish to donate it all, there is another option to receive charitable benefits: You may donate an undivided fractional interest in your property to a charity, at which point, typically, you and the charity cooperate in marketing and selling the property.

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At the closing, net sales proceeds are distributed to you and the charity based on the respective ownership shares. You are entitled to a charitable deduction based on the ownership percentage you donate (sometimes adjusted to reflect the minority discount rule that provides that a minority interest is worth less than a majority interest). Since this strategy does not require the charity to come up with upfront cash to purchase the property, it is often the charity’s preferred strategy vs. the bargain sale.

There are even strategies that will allow you to donate your property, receive the charitable deduction and an income stream for life. These strategies utilize a charitable gift annuity (CGA) or a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT).

Your income stream is based on several factors, including your property’s appraised value, the expected net sales proceeds realized when the property is sold, your age, your life expectancy, and the prevailing interest rate discount factor that takes current market interest rates and the money’s time value into consideration.

CRUTs vary slightly in that they are established by placing your property in a trust, then selling it to establish an asset on which a fixed percentage is paid to you for life. A percentage, these days, typically 5 to 7 percent, is then paid out to you for your lifetime or for as many years as you select.

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So, for example, assume 30 years ago you bought property costing $50,000. It is now appraised at $550,000. Assume you paid off the mortgage, so it is now debt-free. When you sell it for the appraised value, you will pay a real estate agent $33,000 in commissions, and $15,950 in transfer and recordation taxes. Your net sales proceeds will be $501,050. Assuming a 5 percent annuity rate, the charity will pay you $2,087 monthly for the remainder of your life.

“These strategies can be combined into hybrid strategies to customize the donation to suit the donor, the charity and to assure strict compliance with the detailed IRS rules and regulations,” Magnuson said. “You can even retain a life estate allowing you to live in your property for life  and still complete a tax advantaged gift.”

Harvey S. Jacobs is a real estate lawyer with Jacobs & Associates Attorneys at Law in Rockville. He is an active real estate investor, landlord, settlement attorney, lender and associate real estate broker. This column is not legal or tax advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining your own legal counsel. Contact Harvey at 301-300-6252, www.jacobs-associates.com, or ask@thehouselawyer.com.

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