If you're age 70 ½ or older you probably know you must begin taking distributions from your IRA -whether you want to or not. The IRS life expectancy tables determine your required minimum distribution (RMD) based on the previous years ending balance for your IRA and your attained age for the tax year.
The qualified charitable distribution rules provide those subject to RMDs an option that can help them reduce their income tax liability by having certain charitable contributions made directly to a qualified charity. Given the changes to itemized deductions and the standard deduction in the 2017 tax law update, the qualified charitable distribution rules for your IRA account becomes even more important.
If you make charitable contributions throughout the year, it would be wise to consider making those contributions directly from your IRA. Up to $100,000 of charitable distributions from each IRA owner's accounts can be excluded from your taxable income each year.
Say you plan to give $10,000 to your church or another qualified charity and you are receiving taxable distributions from your IRA. If you make the contribution to the charity directly from your IRA, your $10.000 gift will not be reported as income on your income tax return.
If you instead receive these funds as income from your IRA distribution and then send the same $10,000 to the charity it is included in your taxable income and could result in higher Medicare premiums and a higher percentage of your social security income being taxable. If you do not have itemized deductions that exceed the new $24,000 per couple or $12,000 per individual standard deduction, you could lose all the tax benefits of your generosity.
By having the distributions sent directly to the qualified charity from your IRA, you will exclude the amount from your taxable income, potentially lowering your Medicare premiums, the taxable portion of your social security benefits, and your overall income tax rate at both the federal and state level.
If you follow this strategy, be sure to let your income tax preparer know. There is no indicator on the 1099R you receive at the end of the year that shows that part of your distribution is non-taxable, so there is a chance many people using this strategy are over-paying their income taxes each year.
With the end of the year approaching now is the time to look for opportunities to save on income taxes. Here are some items you should look for.
Assets can transfer to your heirs in one of two ways when you die. They can transfer by will, which includes probate court and public filing of related documents, or they can transfer by contract.
The advantages of having your assets transfer by contract include:
Examples of assets that transfer by contract include accounts or assets titled Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship, Transfer on Death and Pay on Death accounts, Life Insurance and Annuity contracts, Trusts, and your IRA and 401k accounts if you complete the beneficiary forms correctly.
When you first establish an IRA or 401k, an annuity or life insurance contract, you are provided a form to name beneficiaries. If you fail to complete these forms the assets will usually pass back into your estate and become part of the probate process. By naming a beneficiary or beneficiaries you can let these assets transfer by contract. You should also name contingent beneficiaries and choose whether you want the assets to transfer per stirpes or per capita. By filling out these beneficiary forms you are insuring that your wishes are honored after your death.
Many people name only a spouse as a beneficiary. If the couple have children or grand children they wish to provide for they should consider making them contingent beneficiaries to preserve the tax benefits of an IRA (however if the children or grandchildren are minors be sure a guardian has been named or the funds will be encumbered until the courts name a guardian).
Currently only surviving spouses can transfer assets from their deceased spouse's 401k to their own IRA, but the recently enacted Pension Protection Act of 2006 will extend that privilege to any beneficiary after 2007.
The bottom line is beneficiary forms are an integral and important part of your estate plan. Choosing the right way to transfer these assets can save time and money, but can also be confusing. If you are unsure how to proceed choose a professional to help you, but don't delay.