Seniors have often used donations to charities as a method to reduce the size of an estate for tax reasons as well as philanthropic reasons.
In 2006, Congress made it much easier for many people over 70½ to make donations. They could donate up to $100,000 directly from their traditional IRAs to charity without facing income tax penalties. However, as Congress so often does this charitable rollover exclusion was not made a permanent part of the tax code. It required periodic reauthorization.
It has recently been made permanent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015 as reported by the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog in an article entitled "Congress Makes Permanent IRA Charitable Rollover Exclusion." Of course, this does not mean the exclusion cannot be taken out of the tax code by Congress later. It just means that it does not need reauthorization to stay in the code.
While this is a great benefit for elderly people trying to spend down their estates, it is important to remember not to start the spend down process without first consulting an estate planning attorney. Dealing with the estate tax and reducing the size of an estate should be handled as part of a larger estate plan.
The charitable rollover exclusion is the best option for some people but it is a wise course of action to consult with an estate planning attorney for all options available.
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Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Dec. 20, 2015) "Congress Makes Permanent IRA Charitable Rollover Exclusion."