Is There Really a Tax Break for Golf Course Burials? FastWill Investigates
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Is There Really a Tax Break for Golf Course Burials? FastWill Investigates

Ever wonder whether Donald Trump could get a tax break for using his golf course as a burial ground? There have been many conspiracy theories that circulated this story, so today, a FastWill investigation will help you sort fact from fiction.

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When Ivana Trump tragically passed away after falling down a staircase at her home, many people were surprised that her ex-husband, who happens to be the former president, took charge of her burial.  Ivana Trump was buried in a small area at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. This unusual burial arrangement raised a lot of eyebrows, with some wondering whether Donald Trump could get a tax break for using his golf course as a burial ground. 

During Ivana’s funeral, pallbearers lifted her casket into the church, but there were conflicting reports about whether Ivana was actually in it. A few foreign newspapers said they believed that she had actually been cremated. Then, when the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate just weeks later, conspiracy theories went wild. 

Did Donald Trump really bury Ivana at his club to get a tax break? Did he hide documents in her casket? 

A FastWill investigation will help you sort fact from fiction.

Ivana Trump’s Burial 

First of all, we need to dispense with the most outlandish conspiracy theory - namely, that Ivana was cremated but that an urn containing her remains was placed in a coffin. This didn’t happen. Journalist Nina Burleigh wrote about the last years of Ivana Trump’s life for New York Magazine. Ivana was still grieving the passing of her second husband in October (a very handsome Italian more than 20 years her junior). At the time of her fall, Ivana had a serious hip problem that impaired her movement.  Burleigh told Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy-theory debunker, that multiple people had confirmed seeing Ivana in the casket. That means she probably wasn’t cremated after all.

Former President Trump admitted to keeping highly classified documents at Mar-A-Lago, at one point saying that he viewed them as a “keepsake” that he could legally maintain. We’re not going to weigh in on that controversy; but given his claim that he was allowed to have the documents, it seems pretty unlikely that he felt the need to hide some of them in his ex-wife’s coffin. 

Okay, so if classified documents weren’t inside Ivana’s casket, why was she buried at Bedminster? And is there really a tax break for golf course burials?  Read on.

New Jersey Law on Taxation of Cemeteries 

Under New Jersey law, “Graveyards and burial grounds used or intended to be used for the interment of bodies of the dead or the ashes thereof not exceeding ten acres of ground, and cemeteries and buildings for cemetery use erected thereon, and all mausoleums, vaults, crypts or structures intended to hold or contain the bodies of the dead or the ashes thereof, and solely devoted to or held for that purpose shall be exempt from taxation under this chapter.”  (See NJ Rev Stat § 54:4-3.9 (2021)) 

So, yes, there is a tax benefit to operating a burial ground in New Jersey, but in order to do so, the company must meet the requirements of the law. The first requirement is that the company be a non-profit corporation, which means it is registered with the state as a non-profit. As of right now, Bedminster is definitely not a non-profit organization. 

The second requirement is that the land be used “solely” for the purpose of burial in order to be exempt from taxation. Since Bedminster is a golf course, this seems to rule out a tax exemption for this specific burial. Ivana’s grave (which looks pretty meager) is only one tiny area of a much bigger private golf course. The golf club has paying members and is mainly used for golf. That rules out a current tax break.

That doesn’t mean that Trump couldn’t make this work as a tax shelter in the future. For example, Trump could establish a non-profit and give a section of the golf course land to that endeavor. That land would then be tax exempt. We don’t know why Ivana was interred at Bedminster, or if she had an estate plan making her wishes clear. However, the idea of a burial ground doubling as a tax shelter is at least a possibility. 

Trump Did File Plans for a Golf Course Cemetery? 

It’s probably fair to say Ivana wasn’t buried at Bedminster for a tax break. But Donald Trump has been considering building a swanky cemetery for a long time. In 2014, the Trump Organization filed plans with state and local officials asking for approval of the construction of two graveyards at the New Jersey golf course. One of the graveyards would be for family and the other would have 248 very exclusive burial plots up for grabs. The Washington Post speculated that Trump would have marketed these burial plots as a “kind of eternal membership” to Bedminster. The plans included a mausoleum that would be 19 feet tall with obelisks. And it wouldn’t be squirreled away in some far-off corner of the course. True to form, Trump wanted his mausoleum to be built right in the middle of the course.

Can you imagine what this would’ve looked like? I’m thinking of extremely fancy miniature golf, where the 18th hole forces you to either putt the golf ball in a very long tunnel through the center of the mausoleum or else chip it over the roof.

At any rate, Bedminster land use officials expressed doubts at the time about whether they would approve the cemetery and Trump never went through with his plans.

Home Burials are Legal

If you want to be buried on your own property, it is legal everywhere except the District of Columbia, California, Indiana, and Washington. Even when a home burial is legal, you must follow local regulations. Regardless of where the person died, the body needs to be appropriately bathed and dressed to comply with the law. Someone must still sign a death certificate and file it with the appropriate local office.  In 10 states, you must hire a funeral director to file a death certificate, and in a few states, the director has to remove the body from the hospital. If the burial is performed within 24 hours after the person’s death, most of the time you don’t have to embalm the body or use any other preservation method. 

 As for the tax benefits of home burial plots, most states do offer a tax break, but only if the land is used exclusively for burial purposes. So, if your family has some land and would like to establish a private graveyard, it’s possible, but you’ll need to consult with your local land use authorities.

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