More than 95% of American households give to charity. Some do it in the form of time—volunteering on the weekends, for instance—while others do it by donating cash or other items of value. For people looking to maximize their charitable donations, whole life insurance policies offer yet another way to pay it forward.
According to the 2012 Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, 62% of people donate to charity because they want to give back to the community, and 32% cite tax advantages as their primary motivation. When you’re buying life insurance you are likely covering a financial need. Later, if that need disappears, using it for charity is an alternative to simply cashing out a policy. For instance, if your children are now grown and wouldn’t need to be provided for in the event of your death.
There are different ways to help a charity using your life insurance policy.
Charity as beneficiary
You can name the charity as a beneficiary, allowing them to reap all or a portion of your death benefit when you die. Because you maintain ownership of the policy, you can change your mind at a later date, choosing a different beneficiary if your situation or preferences change. While this does allow an estate tax deduction, it doesn’t have many short-term benefits.
Transferring policy ownership to charity
Transferring ownership of the policy to your charity will deliver the best short-term tax benefits through an income tax deduction.
By donating your life insurance policy, you are generally able to deduct the fair market value of the policy from your income tax liability. This could equate to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on your policy specifics. But this isn’t the only income tax benefit of policy donation.
If you decide to transfer ownership of your whole life policy to charity, the charity becomes both the policyholder and the beneficiary. They can cash the policy in or maintain it for the remainder of your life. Generally, if they opt to maintain the policy, you will continue to pay premiums as you had before. These premiums are now tax-deductible, however, unlike when you were the policyholder. This means in addition to deducting the fair market value of your policy, you can deduct the premiums you pay each year.
Of course, there are limitations on signing over your policy. If the “basis” of your policy is less than fair market value, the basis amount is the amount you’ll be allowed to deduct. The basis is the total amount of premiums you’ve paid on the policy, minus any withdrawals or payments you’ve received, up until the donation. Your insurance company can determine what your deduction would be; ask before you make a final decision.
For many, donating a whole life insurance policy allows them to give more than they would be able to if they were donating cash. If the life insurance policy is no longer needed or the tax benefits are seen as a priority, it is a charitable act that provides multiple benefits.
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