On a recent sunny afternoon, Foundation Executive Director Melissa Kelley joined Michele Torr McDonell and her brother Michael Torr at Monte Rio’s Creekside Park to talk about their donation of property to the Parks Foundation. Michael and Michele – along with their younger brother Brian – enjoy a family legacy in Monte Rio that dates back to the early 1900s, and they are deeply connected to the community.
Their donation of a one-acre parcel comes on the heels of the discounted sale of 515 acres to Sonoma County Regional Parks – property that will provide a key linkage between Monte Rio and Occidental and host a future trail along Dutch Bill Creek. “Regional Parks and the Parks Foundation were such a pleasure to work with,” Michele said. “Anyone who has dealt with property transfers knows how arduous and challenging it can be, but this was even fun!”
When asked what prompted the recent divestment of these properties, Michael said, “Let me tell you a story.”
My grandfather was like a surrogate dad to George Cassini, a well known West County resident who lost his father at a young age. One day George came to my grandfather and said he had a dilemma. A man wanted to buy his land.
“Well,” Grandfather asked, “how much is he offering?”
George revealed the proposed purchase price.
“That’s a very fair price, George,” said Grandfather. “Do you want to sell the property?”
“Yes,” George answered, “I do.”
Grandfather continued, “Then what’s the dilemma?”
“Well,” George answered, “if I sell the land, then I won’t own it anymore!”
That, said Michael, was the dilemma he faced with the parcels in Monte Rio. The family wanted to reduce the number of properties they owned, but the land also was filled with memories that they didn’t want to lose.
Michele chimed in: “Turning our land into parkland was a win for us and for the community. This way, we can continue to visit the places that are so meaningful to us. In addition, we still have many friends in the area. They’re so excited by the prospect of having a Regional Park they can walk to. Now people will be able to hike it and enjoy it as much as we did!”
The Parks Foundation can accept select gifts of property to be used for parkland or to be sold to support parks. In the example of the McDonell-Torr property, Regional Parks already had identified the land as a desirable addition to a future Monte Rio regional park.
Most properties are more like the bequest of a Sebastopol farm house that the Parks Foundation received several years ago. The land was not a good fit to become a park, but the donor had indicated the property could be sold to benefit Regional Parks. Funds from this sale are supporting upcoming improvements to the West County Trail.
To discuss prospective land donations, please contact Parks Foundation Executive Director Melissa Kelley.
If you own stocks, mutual funds or exchange traded funds outside of a retirement account, you and your favorite charities can benefit if you give shares directly to the charity. This month we talk to financial planner Michael Gorman about the benefits of donating appreciated stock and the simple steps such a donation requires.
Q: What are the tax advantages of donating appreciated stock?
A: If you were to sell stock you own and then donate the proceeds to charity, you would pay tax on the stock’s capital gains. If you’ve held the stock for more than a year, when you give shares directly to charity, you can deduct the full market value of the stock or fund. (If it’s been less than a year, your deduction is limited to the cost basis.)
The charity then sells the security and is not subject to capital gains tax, because it is a qualified charitable entity. Consequently, the charity gets the full value of the stock donation.
Q: Why is this a particularly good time to donate stocks, mutual funds or exchange traded funds?
The stock market has performed exceptionally well this year. For example, three main U.S. stock indexes closed at record highs at the end of October. As a result, many investors own stocks that have increased in value, making this a good time to transfer these stocks as a charitable donation.
Q: Can you give an example so folks can see why stock donations are a good alternative to donating cash?
A: Sure. Let’s say Jennifer would like to donate $2,000 to the Parks Foundation. If Jennifer has appreciated stock, she can make an in-kind donation of shares. Suppose she has held XYZ corporate stock for many years and the price per share is now $100, but Jennifer only paid $15 per share when she bought the stock. If she were to sell the shares to raise the money for the donation, she would incur a capital gains tax totaling approximately 24% depending on her tax bracket – about $400 in taxes.
Instead, she could give 20 shares worth $2,000 to the Foundation. She gets to deduct $2,000 from her income tax (depending on her situation) without paying a $400 capital gains tax for selling the stock. The Foundation can sell the 20 shares and net the full $2,000 without paying tax since it is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) entity. Of course, you should always check with your own financial advisor or tax professional before making a charitable contribution to make sure stock donations are right for your situation.
Q: How do I make a donation of stock?
A: Your broker or financial planner can arrange to transfer whatever quantity of shares you wish “in-kind” (without selling them) directly to the Parks Foundation, or any other charity of your choice. (The Parks Foundation provides details about donating stocks here.)
It is extremely important to notify the nonprofit when you donate shares. Charities receive gifts of stock with absolutely no identifying information. You must alert the nonprofit that your gift of stock will be transferred and provide your contact information so that the nonprofit can send you a letter acknowledging your gift.
Before donating, check with your tax professional to make sure you will benefit from the donation. Recent changes to tax laws may limit the amount that you can deduct as part of your itemized deductions on Schedule A of your tax return.
Q: Is there anything else donors should know?
A: There may be a variety of additional reasons why someone would want to donate stock. For example, an investor might have too much of a particular stock (a “concentrated position”) and want to divest some of it. Or an individual might have invested in a company and no longer want the stock because its prospects are not good or the investor dislikes its impact on the environment. In these examples, the investor has other valid reasons for wanting to divest a stock, and donating the stock to charity can provide tax advantages, as well.
I’ve supported charities this way myself and found it a financially wise decision that is also personally gratifying.
Michael Gorman is a Certified Financial Planner® with Creekside Partners in Petaluma. He and his wife Pat have supported the Parks Foundation for nearly a decade and are now monthly Park Pals.
Kathryn Peyton, a monthly Park Pal donor and Certified Financial Planner® enjoys an outing with her dogs at Gualala Point Regional Park.
We had the opportunity to interview Kathryn Peyton, CFP®, a financial advisor at Abacus Wealth Partners in Sebastopol. A long-time supporter of the Parks Foundation, Kathryn has been a monthly Park Pal donor since 2020.
The end of the year is typically a time when people make charitable donations. We talked with Kathryn about some of the reasons people might want to donate to nonprofits like the Sonoma County Parks Foundation through an IRA, and other tax-advantaged ways to make charitable contributions.
What is an IRA Required Minimum Distribution (RMD), and who does it apply to?
An RMD is the amount of money the government tells you that you must take as a distribution from an IRA or other tax-deferred retirement account every year once you turn 72 years of age. For individuals who inherit an account, you must take a Required Minimum Distribution even if you’re younger than 72. In this discussion, we are focusing on IRA accounts, because IRAs have a special ability to use the RMD to make charitable contributions.
A charitable gift made through a direct transfer of funds from your IRA custodian to a qualified charity is called a Qualified Charitable Distribution, or QCD. These distributions generally come from Traditional IRAs and Inherited IRAs; they can also come from inactive SIMPLE and SEP IRAs. Under some limited conditions, it may be appropriate to make a QCD from a Roth IRA; see a tax or financial advisor for more information on that.
Why should people consider making a charitable gift via their RMD?
All RMDs from Traditional IRAs are considered taxable income to the IRA owner. It’s like you are getting a salary every year from your IRA, and you have to pay taxes on it. If you make a charitable contribution with your IRA RMD, though, you don’t have to count that money as income.
This arrangement delivers multiple advantages. First, you can give more money away to charities that you love, and that always feels good. It also reduces taxable income that you otherwise would have, which lowers your taxes and can protect you from missing out on some tax credits. In addition, by donating some or all of your RMD, you may protect yourself from having to pay extra for Medicare. If your RMD raises your taxable income over $85,000 for a single individual or $170,000 for married filing jointly, you’ll experience a Medicare high-income surcharge, which increases your Part B and Part D premiums.
What do you tell your clients about making a Qualified Charitable Distribution?
If you’re going to make a QCD, it is absolutely essential for the distribution to go directly from your IRA to the charity. If your IRA custodian sends the funds to you first, and then you write a check, that money will be counted as income and you will be taxed accordingly. Some of our clients who like to give widely use a special checkbook drawn on their IRA to make contributions themselves; you can also ask your custodian to send checks on your behalf.
It’s important to note that some charities are not eligible to receive QCDs, even if they are a 501(c)3. For instance, if you have a Donor Advised Fund, you may not make a QCD to that account. In addition, you are not allowed to benefit from a QCD, so, for example, you can’t use your IRA to contribute to a charity golf tournament if you are participating or to purchase a Regional Parks membership.
Another critical point is that for the charitable gift to count towards this year’s Required Minimum Distribution, the IRA must disburse the funds before your RMD deadline, which is typically December 31. If you are really lucky and have a very large RMD, only $100,000 of your RMD can be used to make QCDs.
Are there other tax advantages to making Qualified Charitable Distributions?
Under the tax act passed in 2017, the standard deduction is much higher than it was previously. This situation makes it less likely that taxpayers will itemize their charitable contributions, and more likely that they’ll just take the standard deduction. Making a Qualified Charitable Distribution from your IRA enables older taxpayers to see a tax benefit from their charitable contributions, even if they don’t itemize.
Are there other year-end giving strategies to consider?
Because the stock market has performed well in recent years, many people own highly appreciated stocks. Donating stocks to a charity enables an individual to support a cause that is meaningful to her or him without incurring capital gains. Be sure to notify the nonprofit of your impending gift of stock, as the stock transaction information will not include your name or contact information.
Finally, it is always a good idea to consult with your tax advisor regarding your charitable giving plans.
On the heels of "Make a Will" month in August, we interviewed Parks Foundation board member Chad Dorr about the importance of estate planning and some current trends. Chad Dorr is an estate planning attorney at Perry, Johnson, Anderson, Miller & Moskowitz in Santa Rosa. The views expressed in this article are his own.
Q: For people who don’t have many assets, do they really need an estate plan?
Absolutely. Most people think of “estate planning” as identifying who gets what property when you die. That is part of it, but a comprehensive estate plan is much more than that. It includes making plans for your financial affairs and healthcare decision-making if you become incapacitated. If you don’t lay your plans out, in writing, in advance, not only will your loved ones have to deal with grieving in what may be the hardest moments of their lives, they will be left rudderless in carrying out your wishes – which is a recipe for disputes – and could put important decisions in the hands of the courts.
Q: What’s better, a will or a trust?
That depends on the circumstances. A lot of folks think that a will is sufficient in terms of planning for their estates, but in California, if a person dies with as little as $166,250 (gross value) in their estates, their heirs will have to go through the time and expense of a court-supervised probate. With the estate tax threshold currently so high -- $11.7 million for individuals/$23.4 million for married couples – most people don’t need an estate plan for tax purposes. Estate plans are incredibly important, though, to ensure that the things you’ve worked so hard for during your life get to your loved ones efficiently.
A trust is a more detailed instrument that allows your property to be distributed without court supervision, which usually means the estate can be handled quicker and for less expense, meaning more of your estate will go to your heirs.
Here’s a good example: Donna has no savings, but owns a modest house worth $500,000 and nothing else. With a will (or if she dies without a will), probate will cost $13,000 for attorneys’ fees and at least $2,000 in court-related fees. A trust will also have some expenses of administration, but they are usually a fraction of what a probate would cost.
Don’t think that trusts are only for wealthy people. Trusts are for everyone. Basically, anyone who owns real property in Sonoma County would likely be subjected to probate when they die with a will. For most people, to create the easiest transition to your heirs or other beneficiaries, a trust (or some other non-probate transfer) is most helpful.
Q: What are some current trends that you're seeing?
We are keeping an eye on a number of legislative proposals related to the estate tax. Given the amount of debt the U.S. has taken on because of COVID recovery, Congress may reduce the estate tax threshold or eliminate some other tax planning tools that benefit heirs, like the step-up in basis for determining capital gains on inherited property.
Also, lately, it seems like more individuals are working on their estate plans. That might be because people have had more time during COVID to catch up on things they postponed, or it might be because people are more aware of their mortality during a pandemic.
Q: What advice do you give people about making legacy gifts to nonprofit organizations?
I talk to my clients about being able to provide for things that they care deeply about during their lives, even when their life situation may not enable them to be particularly generous. When someone passes away, she or he no longer needs to worry about paying rent or the particulars of daily living. And you don’t have to worry about potential future expenses, such as skyrocketing costs for healthcare. Because you no longer have uncertainty about what funds you’ll need in the future, that freedom from worry can open the door to greater generosity after you’ve died.
Leaving a bequest to a nonprofit is a great way to support things you were passionate about during your life and pass that legacy on to future generations.
Is a gift through a will or trust the only way to leave a bequest to a nonprofit?
A gift through a will or trust is probably the most common way to benefit a nonprofit organization. Some people also like the simplicity of naming a nonprofit as the beneficiary of a retirement account, life insurance policy, or bank account. Naming a nonprofit as a beneficiary offers the advantage that if the person has already created estate plans and doesn’t want to go back to an attorney, she or he can change the beneficiary with a simple form from the financial institution.
Retirement accounts present a unique situation. An IRA, for example, is an excellent tool for building capital tax-free during your lifetime. But part of the bargain that Congress made when it created the IRA is that upon a person’s death, the assets in the IRA do not benefit from a step-up in basis and all withdrawals are taxed at ordinary income rates, which are generally higher than the preferential capital gains rate.
If you donate your IRA to a charity, though, the charity can cash out the IRA essentially tax free.
Consequently, for those who want to give an inheritance to their heirs and to a charity, I often advise people to give appreciated stock or property that is outside the IRA, such as the family home, to children or other loved ones, since those assets benefit from a step-up in basis; and to direct their IRA to a nonprofit. In this arrangement, your estate ends up with a greater value to distribute to the people and organizations you care most about. Both your heirs and the nonprofit come out ahead.
Q: Are there any other estate planning topics you want to cover?
Some people might be interested in more advanced types of trust documents, such as charitable remainder trusts.
In a charitable remainder trust, you place property into an irrevocable trust where you receive the benefit of the income during your lifetime and at the end of the trust, the principal goes to the nonprofit. You will typically get an immediate charitable tax deduction and can sell appreciated assets held in the CRT without paying capital gains tax, meaning more income for you and more principal for the nonprofit.
Here’s an example of when a person might consider a charitable trust: Mark owns a rental property and relies on the rent to support himself. He frequently hikes in Sonoma County Regional Parks, but he doesn’t feel like he can donate much at this time. Mark meets with his estate planning attorney and sets up a charitable remainder trust with the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation as the beneficiary. This trust pays him a guaranteed monthly income during his lifetime. When he passes away, the remainder of the value of his rental property is donated to the nonprofit Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation.
The takeaway: Estate plans cover much more than just wills and trusts, and almost anyone would benefit from creating an estate plan to ensure that their wishes are followed after they pass. If you have a passion for Regional Parks but haven’t been able to support parks as generously as you would like during your lifetime, consider a gift through your will, trust, or IRA/401(k).
The staff at the nonprofit Parks Foundation are happy to speak with you if we can be of assistance. Contact Executive Director Melissa Kelley at email@example.com or (707) 565-1830.
The views expressed in this interview are provided as general information only and are not intended to be relied on as legal advice. As always, you should consult with your own legal counsel and tax professionals to determine the appropriate estate planning documents for your particular circumstances.
"Being out in the parks is so important," Laura observes. It's refreshing to spend time in nature. In the springtime, it makes me happy to see all the baby animals, like the other morning when I saw a doe and her fawn. Hiking in the parks frees your mind from stress."
Laura has worked for Keysight Technologies and its predecessors for several decades, originally building products for HP and now in Technical Information Services working with planning, procurement and engineering. "I like the fact that Keysight offers so many causes for which they will match donations that are very meaningful to employees," she said. Keysight treats its employees well, and I think its corporate matching program is one of the many benefits of working here."
What are the things that matter the most to you? This was one of the questions I asked myself as I worked on my planned giving arrangements several years ago. For me, the answer was easy.
Over 175 years ago, my great-great-grandparents, Mark and Guadalupe West, settled in Sonoma County. Today, Sonoma County Regional Parks is preparing to open a new park bearing Mark West’s name. I wanted to be part of his legacy. Designating a bequest in my will for this park through the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation will undoubtedly enhance this property for future generations.
Sonoma County Regional Parks are essential to the quality of life in our community. Our parks provide convenient locations for outdoor recreation; they bring us close to the beauty of our open spaces and improve our health. Our parks give us places to gather with family, making memories for a lifetime. And our parks not only benefit the human residents of Sonoma County, but also provide critical wildlife habitat.
I started this post by asking, "What matters the most to you?" Here’s what matters to me. I want to ensure that this land – land that was precious to my great-great-grandparents, just as it's now precious to me – will continue to thrive for generations to come. I want to know that decades from today, my granddaughter can bring her granddaughter to her favorite regional park to play, hike, and scan the horizon for turkey vultures.
You likely have your own special memories of these beloved places. I hope you'll join me in the Parks Foundation Legacy Society. Together we can ensure that Sonoma County’s outdoor treasures will be protected – today and for generations to come.
In the 1990s, when Lygia was in her 70s, she took the bold step of engaging with her generation’s version of Match.com: She answered a personals ad Jim Charlton had placed, and the couple’s very first date was at Spring Lake Regional Park.
Lygia’s daughter, Diane DeRoo, says: “My mom was always a bit shy about the fact that they came together through a personals ad. When people asked her how they met, she’d leave out the part about the personals ad and just say they met on a park bench at Spring Lake! She was always willing to try new things, and I told her it was great that she answered the ad.”
Jim and Lygia wed and continued to enjoy walks and picnics at Spring Lake throughout their 20-year marriage. Then, in the summer of 2017, Lygia passed away. Seven months later, Jim also passed away. Jim left a $10,000 bequest to the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation to show the couple’s lasting appreciation for our beautiful parks.
The family’s fondness for Sonoma County’s Regional Parks extends to Lygia’s daughter Diane. Diane and her husband Michael, who own an RV, regularly drive from their home in Sebastopol to camp at Doran and Gualala Point Regional Parks. “We can drive a short 18 miles from home to Doran and be totally relaxed in the No Chore Zone,” Diane says. “There’s a wonderful bench at Doran with a plaque that reads, ‘May You Find Peace & Joy in This Moment.’ I like to sit there, take a deep breath and think, ‘That’s exactly how our parks make me feel!’”
The Parks Foundation is working with Diane to dedicate a bench at Spring Lake as part of Jim’s bequest. Diane concludes: “This is something that will be a lasting memorial to both my mom and Jim. It’s really meaningful to me and would certainly please both of them. Good stuff!”
LEARN MORE ABOUT COMMEMORATIVE GIFTS TO THE PARKS FOUNDATION
In 2019, for the first time in our history, the Parks Foundation received a donation of property to sell and benefit Regional Parks.
As a young couple in the 1970s, Victoria White Hand and Skip Hand lived in Berkeley, but they longed to come to Sonoma County. "We wanted to be dirt farmers," Victoria explained. Eventually they purchased a charming little farmhouse in Sebastopol where they raised chickens, ducks, geese, sheep and all kinds of produce.
Skip and Victoria lived in their quaint farmhouse for 40 years. When the time came to think about their legacy, they looked with fondness at their property in rural Sebastopol and thought of how it reminded them of a park. As Skip and Victoria wrote their trust, they decided they wanted their property to benefit Sonoma County Regional Parks.
In August 2017, Skip passed away. The next year, Victoria's trust officer, Andriy Lesyshyn of Exchange Bank's Trust & Investment Management Department, reached out to our nonprofit Parks Foundation to fulfill Skip's wishes.
The property sits less than a mile from Occidental Road, in a neighborhood where the West County Trail is simply a bicycle lane on the road's shoulder. Currently, cyclists and pedestrians must carefully share a space with cars passing at 50 mph.
In the coming years, the gift from the White-Hand Family Trust will be combined with other funding, making it possible to construct a safe, 8-foot-wide extension of the West County Trail from Highway 116 to Atascadero Creek. Because of Skip and Victoria's foresight, their property has become a transformational gift that will benefit neighbors and the community at large for generations to come.
If you would like to discuss a potential legacy gift to the Parks Foundation, please reach out to Executive Director Melissa Kelley at 707-565-1830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Laba, owner of Russian River Adventures, shown here with Lesley Pfeiffer and Jim Boyce of Regional Parks' Lifeguard Services, is a longtime supporter of Regional Parks' River Patrol. As summer winds down, we asked him about his involvement in this life-saving program.
You donate life vests to the River Patrol. Why is this program important to you?
Many people who come to swim in the river don't understand that even at beaches at our Parks, some places can be dangerous. You can be walking in water that is 2 feet deep and in the next step drop off to 6 feet deep. The Water Safety Patrol was meant to save lives on the river, and I want people to enjoy the river safely. Also, many people find out that wearing a life vest is actually more fun because it makes swimming and floating easier.
How many life vests did you donate this year?
90 this year and somewhere between 300 and 400 since the beginning of the program.
You own Russian River Adventures in Healdsburg. How did you get involved in water sports?
I began a love affair with rivers when I was about 10 years old, canoeing, swimming, fishing and camping. In the early ‘90s, I designed the first SOAR Inflatable Canoe and entered the outdoor recreation industry. Subsequently, I moved to Sonoma County and began offering river trips.
Thousands of people come to the Russian River every year. What makes this river so special?There are many canoeable rivers like the Russian River east of the Rocky Mountains, but few to the west. The Russian usually has a nice gentle current, making it easy for people to explore. The river is also home to great biodiversity. Visitors are likely to see lots of birds that only frequent riparian habitat, like herons, kingfishers and osprey. Plus, on any given day, there are likely to be surprises like river otters and bald eagles. This is the only river of its kind in all of California.
If you could tell visitors one thing about how to be safe at the river, what would it be?
Something that I tell all of the guests that come rafting down the river with us is that even though they might be good swimmers, wearing a life vest makes being in the water easier and more fun.