• Can parents pay a child’s travel expenses overseas for church-related activities and deduct the amount paid as a charitable contribution? That was the issue before the Tax Court in a recent case. The parents paid their son’s airfare to a Pacific island where he served as an intern of the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The IRS disallowed the charitable contribution deduction, and the parents took the case to the Tax Court. The Tax Court agreed with the IRS position. It acknowledged that the Internal Revenue Code (our federal tax law) permits a deduction for certain contributions “to or for the use of” a qualified charitable organization. However, it emphasized that section 262 of the Code prohibits any deduction for “personal, living or family expenses.” The court rejected the parents’ claim that their payments were deductible as a contribution to a “missionary,” since the son was more properly characterized as a student (his internship was primarily intended to benefit his personal education) and his activities while overseas were not subject to any control or supervision by the Christian Church. The court acknowledged that some courts have permitted parents to deduct their payment of a missionary child’s travel expenses, but only if the child’s missionary activities are subject to the significant control and supervision of a church or missions agency. Such was not the case here. Cook v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1989-281 (1989).
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