A recent ruling by a California-based court prohibits parents of missionaries representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from receiving tax deductions for mission expenses - if the contributions are given directly to the missionary instead of through the church.
Judge Melvin Brunetti of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Harold and Enid Davis were not entitled to a charitable deduction for the money they sent their two 19-year-old sons for their missionary expenses.During 1980 and 1981, the Davises transferred funds to their sons' accounts, which were used primarily for living expenses during their missions. The Davises filed two amended returns for 1980 and 1981. The couple characterized the deductions as charitable contributions.
But the judge found that in order for the expenses to be deductible, the recipient charity must have full control over the donated funds. Brunetti further concluded that a deduction for unreimbursed expenses is permitted only for the individual who actually performs the charitable service.
The decision of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals applies to these states: California, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii.
Wilford Kirton, general counsel for the LDS church, said that families living in the 9th circuit boundaries must make their contributions in the manner suggested by church authorities to qualify as a charitable donation.
A 1981 letter written by President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Council of the Twelve, outlines the suggested procedure:
-Donate funds to the church, through the ward or branch.
-Send the funds via church officials to the missionary or to the mission president.
-Funds should not exceed the mount suggested by the LDS Missionary Department.
"When payments are made as directed, through the church in the spartan amounts specified by the church, the contribution is tax deductible," said Kirton.
The recent ruling in the 9th Circuit Court contradicts previous rulings made in courts of two other regions of the U.S., said Kirton.
Judges in the 10th and 5th U.S. circuit courts of appeals have determined that the proper test of deductibility is not the method of fund disbursement but the purpose of the contribution. If the primary purpose is to further the aims of the charitable organization, then it qualifies as a charitable contribution - regardless of how received by the missionary.
States included in the 10th Circuit are: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The 5th Circuit includes: Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. In these states, funds mailed directly to missionaries qualify as tax deductible, the courts have determined.
Families of LDS missionaries living within the jurisdictions of the remaining eight circuit courts in the U.S. should comply with the traditional church procedure, suggests Kirton.
Recognizing that the differing opinions of the appellate courts may cause confusion among church members, Kirton said he has been "struggling for years to get legal uniformity."
Kirton may appeal the 9th Circuit ruling, "but a decision has not been made at this time," he said.
Approximately 36,000 missionaries are serving in countries throughout the world. Most of these missionaries serve for two years and are from the United States.