Carnegie Mellon University

Give to CMU

Retained Life Estates

Your home is one of your most valuable assets. With a retained life estate, you can gift your home to Carnegie Mellon now, but continue to live in it for as long as you wish.

A retained life estate enables you to make a greater gift than you might have thought possible and receive immediate tax benefits without changing your living situation.

retained life estate may be right for you if:

  • You want to continue to live in your home.
  • You do not plan to pass on your home to family or other heirs.
  • You itemize your income tax deductions and want to save on income taxes now.
  • You want to make a significant gift to Carnegie Mellon University.


Features of a Retained Life Estate

A retained life estate is an irrevocable arrangement between you and Carnegie Mellon University. You irrevocably deed your home to CMU in exchange for an agreement that gives you the right to live in your home for as long as you choose, up to the rest of your life, if desired. When your retained life estate arrangement ends, your home becomes the property of Carnegie Mellon to use or sell. Typically, CMU will sell your home and use the proceeds.

Eligible property
Most donors create retained life estate arrangements using their home. You may also create a retained life estate with a second home or any other structure that functions as your residence, such as a boat. Eligible property may also include a farm, including raw farm land.

Your responsibilities
You will be responsible for all regular expenses on your property while you live in it. These expenses include routine maintenance, property taxes, utility bills, and insurance.

Tax benefits
You will receive an income tax charitable deduction in the year of your gift. The amount of the deduction will depend on the value of your home and how long your plan will last. If you itemize instead of taking the standard deduction you could save significant income taxes. If you cannot use your entire deduction in the year of your gift, you may carry forward all unused deduction for up to five additional years if you are eligible to itemize in each of those years. By removing your home from your estate, you may also reduce estate taxes and probate costs when your estate is settled if your estate exceeds the then applicable estate tax credit.By removing your home from your estate, you may also reduce estate taxes and probate costs when your estate is settled.

Term flexibility
You most likely will want to retain the right to live in your home for the rest of your life, or for the lives of you and your spouse. Other possible terms include more than two lives, a specific number of years, or a combination of lives and years.

Ending your plan early
If you decide you no longer want to live in your home for any reason, you can end your retained life estate early either by giving your remaining interest to or by selling your property in cooperation with Carnegie Mellon.

Special considerations
Giving your home to Carnegie Mellon requires some extra steps of which you should be aware. These steps include the following:

  • Prior to the transfer, you will need to establish the value of your property by obtaining a qualified, independent appraisal. 
  • In addition to your appraiser's valuation, we will need to examine your property and conduct our own analysis of its value. We will need to know if there are any debts, taxes, or liens owed on your property.
  • Once we accept your gift of real estate, we become responsible for cleaning up any environmental problems your property may have. This sort of cleanup can be very expensive. Therefore, before we accept any gift of real estate, we routinely conduct a review to make sure the property has no environmental issues.


Winford and Deborah Franco, ages 78 and 77, still live in the house in which they raised their three children. Winford and Deborah are in good health and have no plans to move. Their house has appreciated greatly over the years and is now worth about $600,000. Their children are grown with homes of their own and have no interest in keeping the house in the family.

Winford and Deborah would like to make a large gift to Carnegie Mellon University, but they do not feel comfortable giving a significant portion of their investment assets away. They are excited to learn that they can give their house instead while continuing to live in it for as long as they wish. Their lifestyle won't change at all as a result of this arrangement. They also are attracted by the income tax charitable deduction of about $406,535* that they can use immediately to reduce their income taxes if they itemize their income tax deductions.


  • Winford and Deborah can continue to live in their home for the rest of their lives.
  • They receive an income tax deduction of approximately $406,535*.
  • They may deduct up to 30% of their adjusted gross income in the year of the gift. If they cannot use their entire deduction in the year of their gift, they may carry forward the balance for up to five additional years.
  • They are providing major support to Carnegie Mellon, currently valued at $600,000.
  • Their home is no longer in their estate, potentially saving estate taxes.

*Winford and Deborah’s income tax charitable deduction may vary depending on the timing of their gift. Their ability to benefit from an income tax charitable deduction will depend on their ability to itemize their income tax charitable deductions.