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Gifts of Life Estate

Goal: Give your personal residence or farm, but retain life use
Benefit: tax advantages plus use of the property for your lifetime

A retained life estate is a gift plan defined by federal tax law allowing the donation of a personal residence (to include a vacation home) or farm with the donor retaining the right to life enjoyment. A life estate may be retained for one or more lives or it may be retained for a term of years. All routine expenses - maintenance fees, property taxes, repairs, etc. - are the responsibility of the donor. The donor receives income tax benefits in the year of the gift (the property is irrevocably deeded to the charity) and estate tax benefits.

For the purposes of taxes, the property within a retained life estate is divided into two parts:

  1. The "life estate value" of the donor's retained right to live on (occupy) the property for both the donor's or the donor's and his or her spouse's actuarial life expectancy. This is a calculation for taxes and not a limitation of the time the donor and/or spouse can occupy the property.
  2. The "gift value" is the difference between the market value (an appraisal at the time of the gift will be necessary) of the property and the calculated life estate value. This determines the amount of the charitable income tax deduction that would apply in the year of the gift (it is subject to appropriate carry-forward rules if necessary).

At the time of death of the final owner of the life estate, the property passes into the possession of the charity.

Should the donor decide to sell the property that is subject to a life estate, that can be accomplished in partnership with the charity. At the time of the sale, the remaining value of the life estate is calculated and the proceeds from the sale are dived proportionately between the charity and the donor. The donor may also decide to gift the remaining value of the life estate to the charity and, in so doing, would receive a charitable tax deduction for the value of the life estate at the time of the gift.

A retained life estate allows the donor to maintain his and/or her lifestyle and at the same time makes it possible for the donor to make a significant gift to a charity.

Return to the Estate Giving home page or to the Quick Guide to Estate Gifts.


For more information or a confidential discussion of your charitable options, please email or call the Development Director for Major Giving, Maria Bradford,
at (314) 516-7476.

Please note, individual financial circumstances will vary. The information on this site does not constitute legal or tax advice. Donor stories and photographs are for purposes of illustration only. As with all tax and estate planning, please consult your attorney or estate specialist. All material is copyrighted and is for viewing purposes only. Use of this site signifies your agreement with the terms of use. The content in this Planned Giving section has been developed for St. Louis Public Radio and is owned by Future Focus. Please report any problems to section webmaster.