How to List a Charity as Your Beneficiary

Designating a charity as your insurance beneficiary can reduce estate taxes.

Designating a charity as your insurance beneficiary can reduce estate taxes.

Generally, you can name anyone, even a charity, as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy or retirement account. You can leave the entire amount of your death benefit to a charity or designate that only a portion of the proceeds goes to the charity and the remainder to a family member or other beneficiary. The charity will receive money from your retirement account tax-free. You can always update your beneficiary designation form if you decide on another charity.

Items you will need

  • Beneficiary designation form

Confirm that the charity you want to list as a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement plan qualifies as a 501(c)(3) organization so that any money you leave it will be a tax-deductible contribution. Although other categories of 501(c) organizations are exempt from paying federal income tax, contributions they receive as your beneficiary would be subject to estate or income taxes. Check an organization’s 501(c)(3) status by contacting the IRS or asking to see the charity’s tax-exempt letter from the IRS.

Contact the charity to verify that it will accept the proceeds of your life insurance policy or retirement plan as a charitable donation. Visit a charity’s website for contact information including mailing address, phone numbers and email addresses.

Request a beneficiary designation form from your insurance company or plan administrator. You may have the option of logging into your insurance or retirement account and updating your beneficiary information online. However, you need to complete a print beneficiary designation form if you've named an irrevocable beneficiary and need that person to sign a waiver. You cannot change an irrevocable beneficiary without the consent of the beneficiary you previously named. Federal law prohibits electronic signatures on waivers.

Name a charity of your choice as the beneficiary of your life insurance proceeds or retirement account assets. Identify the charity on the form by listing the organization’s full name, address and tax ID number. Indicate that the beneficiary is a charity on the designation form. Depending on the source of the assets, your estate may qualify to receive a tax deduction for your charitable gift.

Name the charity either as a primary beneficiary or contingent beneficiary. If you name additional primary beneficiaries, the charity will share equally in the proceeds unless you instruct otherwise. Indicate a benefit percentage rather than dollar amount. As a contingent beneficiary, the charity will only receive death benefits if all primary beneficiaries die before you do. Naming a contingent beneficiary is sometimes optional rather than required.

Sign and date the beneficiary designation form before returning it to the address the insurance company or retirement plan administrator provides. Keep a copy of the completed and signed form for your estate planning record. Designating a charity as your beneficiary will not be effective until the insurance company receives your signed form.


About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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