Deductability of Testamentary Gifts

The IRS national office recently ruled on this issue.

Church Law and Tax 1991-09-01 Recent Developments

Charitable Contributions

Does a testamentary gift left to a church in a decedent’s will, with the instruction that masses are to be said for the benefit of the deceased and other individuals, qualify for a charitable contribution deduction for estate tax purposes? Yes, ruled the IRS national office. The deceased’s will contained the following article:

Two thousand Dollars ($2,000) shall be paid to [the church] to say Masses for the … souls [of five named deceased individuals] at the payment of three dollars ($3.00) paid for each Mass; the balance of the money left from the sale of the said [property] after these bequests are paid out, shall be paid to [the church] to say Masses for my soul … at the payment of three dollars ($3.00) paid for each Mass. [The church] shall use the money exclusively for Masses for my soul.

It is the policy of the church and of the religious order staffing the church to honor all requests for masses for the repose of the souls of the deceased regardless of whether a donation accompanies the request. In addition, the church is prohibited from “selling” masses by the regulations of its parent church. All funds donated to the church as mass stipends go into the general fund of the church and are applied to church functions. No funds are paid to individual priests or anyone else for the saying of masses. In upholding the deductibility of such payments as charitable contributions, the IRS observed:

In any event, the property in question apparently has passed to the church, and has become part of the general funds of church. No part of the property has been or will be transferred to any individual member of the religious order. Therefore, the amount of the bequest is deductible from decedent’s estate as a [charitable contribution] described in section 2055(a) of the Code …. A bequest by the decedent to his church, accompanied by an instruction that masses are to be said for the benefit of the decedent and other individuals, qualifies as a deductible bequest for purposes of section 2055(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. Private Letter Ruling 9119006.

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