Four tax rules for donating artwork to charity

If you’re an art collector, you may wonder about the tax breaks available for donating a work of art to charity. Several different tax rules may come into play in connection with such contributions.

Basic Rules

Your deduction for a charitable contribution of art is subject to be reduced if the charity’s use of it is unrelated to the purpose or function that’s the basis for its qualification as a tax-exempt organization. The reduction equals the amount of capital gain you would have realized had you sold the property instead of giving it to charity.

Example: You bought a painting five years ago for $10,000 and now it’s worth $20,000. You contribute it to a hospital. Your deduction is limited to $10,000 because the hospital’s use of the painting is unrelated to its charitable function and you would have had a $10,000 long-term capital gain had you sold it.

But what if you donate the painting to an art museum? In this case, your deduction is $20,000.

Substantiation Requirements

There are substantiation rules when you donate a work of art. First, if you claim a deduction of less than $250, you must get and keep a receipt from the charity and you must keep reliable written records for each item you contributed.

If you claim a deduction of at least $250, but not more than $500, you must get and keep an acknowledgment of your contribution from the charity. The acknowledgment must state whether the organization gave you any goods or services in return for your contribution and include a description and good-faith estimate of the value.

If you claim a deduction of more than $500, but not over $5,000, in addition to getting an acknowledgment, you must maintain written records that include information about how and when you obtained the artwork and its cost basis. You must also complete an IRS form and attach it to your tax return.

If the claimed value of the property exceeds $5,000, in addition to an acknowledgment, you must also have an appraisal of the property. This appraisal must be done by a qualified appraiser no more than 60 days before the contribution date and meet other requirements. You include information about these donations on the IRS form you file with your return.

If your total deduction is $20,000 or more, you must attach a copy of the signed appraisal. The IRS may request that you provide a photograph. If an item has been appraised at $50,000 or more, you can ask the IRS to issue a “Statement of Value,” which can be used to substantiate the value.

Percentage Limitations

In addition, your deduction may be limited to 20%, 30%, 50%, or 60% of your contribution base, which usually is your adjusted gross income. The percentage varies depending on the year the contribution is made, the type of organization and whether the deduction had to be reduced because of the unrelated use rule explained above. The amount not deductible on account of a ceiling may be deductible in a later year under carryover rules.

Partial Interest Gifts

Donors sometimes make gifts of partial interests in artwork. For example, a donor may contribute a 50% interest in a painting to a museum, with the understanding that the museum will exhibit it for six months of the year and the donor will keep possession of it for the other six months. Special requirements apply to these donations.

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