Trump Cemetery: Life Long Ambition Or Callous Tax Break?

Former President Donald Trump has buried his ex-wife Ivana near the first hole of his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course

Ivana Trump's grave at Bedminster Golf Course
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You may have read recently that after Ivana Trump passed away from injuries sustained during a fall at her home, she was buried near the first hole at former President and ex-Apprentice presenter Donald Trump’s New Jersey golf course – The Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.

Some outlets are querying whether Trump is using his ex-wife’s death as a means to garner tax breaks on the property as under New Jersey Law, land that is deemed as a cemetery isn’t liable for[1]New Jersey Division of Taxation: Cemeteries, Funerals & New Jersey Taxes (PDF):

  • Real Property taxes on lands dedicated to cemetery purposes
  • Income taxes
  • Sales and Use taxes

No minimum number of graves are required to qualify for the tax breaks[2]Huffington Post: Trump’s Early Plans For Garish Bedminster Mausoleum Were Buried By Local Officials.

Given Trump’s reputation for not liking to reveal his taxes[3]Wikipedia: Tax returns of Donald Trump or, if some are to be believed, pay them at all this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but the story isn’t as clear cut as one might think.

The History Of Bedminster

Trump purchased the 520 acre property (later extended to over 600) from John DeLorean (yes, the Back To The Future car guy) for less than $35 million[4]Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.

The site comprises of a 36 holes, a 1939 Georgian Revival Manor clubhouse, pool complex, tennis courts and a fitness centre[5]Trump National Bedminster.

The venue can be hired out for weddings and events but a large portion of the property is used for growing hay and raising a small herd of goats which enables the property to be designated as agricultural land for tax purposes.

Previous Cemetery Plans

Plans from a cemetery on the site actually date back to 2007, 5 years after Trump purchased the property.

In 2007 Trump filed plans with Somerset County to build a mausoleum but of course, in typical Trump fashion it wasn’t just any mausoleum with plans for it to be decorated with 19 feet obelisks. Bedminster Mayor is quoted as saying of the design that it would “attract the wrong type of people” and that it could be compared to somewhere “in Austria where a Nazi war criminal was buried” that “became a tourist attraction”[6]The New Yorker: Where Trump Wants to Be Buried (2016).

Plans were then amended for a site with 500 plots (minus the mausoleum and chapel)[7]NPR: Fairway To Heaven: Trump Eyes A Golf Course Burial(2012) but Trump changed his mind.

Then in 2014 Trump looked into a plot of land about 20 miles from the golf course but didn’t not complete the purchase. Plans were then filed the same year to build twin graveyards in Bedminster, one having 10 plots by the first hole for use as a family graveyard, the other having 284 plots which would be available for sale to the public[8]Washington Post.

The plans for the twin cemeteries were approved but there was no formal construction or landscaping (as far as I have been able to find out) carried out – certainly not to the scale of the 19 feet obelisks Trump had originally planned.

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So Is This Another Trump “Scam”?

Well, yes. And no.

Trump has obviously been planning to have a cemetery on (or near) the course for at least 15 years and seems to have had permission for the two areas of 10 and 284 plots since 2014 so it wasn’t an overnight addition to the course.

The fact that no building or landscaping work was carried out shows that perhaps Trump thought he had more time to plan out the cemetery and Ivana’s untimely death caused the plans to be expedited.

According to MailOnline:

The [tax] break applies as long as the plot of land is less than 10 acres. The designated land at Bedminster is 1.5 acres, meaning any tax exemption wouldn’t apply to the entirety of the golf club.
Trump previously designated the plot as a farm to benefit from further tax breaks, as it produced mulch used for gardening.[9]MailOnline: Trump is accused of burying Ivana at his Bedminster golf club to take advantage of TAX BREAK offered to cemeteries: Move eliminates property, income AND sales tax under NJ tax code

While Trump won’t get a tax break across the whole of the property, he is reducing his tax burden with the cemetery and agriculture tax breaks.

According to some reports, classing the land for agricultural use means the golf course was taxed at just over $6 an acre in 2019, rather than $462 an acre[10]Fortune: Does Donald Trump get a tax break by burying ex-wife Ivana at his golf club?.

So while this move may seem like a way to avoid taxes (and he is able to), it’s been something that’s been in the works for a long time – although I personally find it slightly creepy you want to bury your ex-wife in a plot where you and maybe your current wife might inhabit at some point in the future.

References

References
1 New Jersey Division of Taxation: Cemeteries, Funerals & New Jersey Taxes (PDF)
2 Huffington Post: Trump’s Early Plans For Garish Bedminster Mausoleum Were Buried By Local Officials
3 Wikipedia: Tax returns of Donald Trump
4 Trump National Golf Club Bedminster
5 Trump National Bedminster
6 The New Yorker: Where Trump Wants to Be Buried (2016)
7 NPR: Fairway To Heaven: Trump Eyes A Golf Course Burial(2012)
8 Washington Post
9 MailOnline: Trump is accused of burying Ivana at his Bedminster golf club to take advantage of TAX BREAK offered to cemeteries: Move eliminates property, income AND sales tax under NJ tax code
10 Fortune: Does Donald Trump get a tax break by burying ex-wife Ivana at his golf club?
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