Ivana Trump’s death grabbed international headlines, but her New Jersey burial place is now garnering suspicion that its location could mean tax breaks for her ex-husband, former President Donald Trump.
Ivana, Trump’s first wife, died July 14 after suffering blunt-impact injuries during a fall at her home in New York City, ABC reports. A medical examiner ruled her death an accident. She was 73.
She has since been buried in a plot of land at Trump National Golf Club, a sprawling course in Bedminster, N.J., that opened in 2004. Now, due to the intricacies of New Jersey’s tax laws and how they apply to “cemetery companies,” some say the course could be getting a tax break.
So, who is Ivana Trump, and what could her burial place mean for the former president’s bottom line?
Born Ivana Maria Zelníčková in Czechoslovakia in 1949, Ivana Trump was a fashion designer and model who married Donald Trump in 1977. She is the mother of his three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric.
The highly publicized pair remained wed until 1992.
Ivana became known in the fashion industry with a line of products sold on home shopping outlets such as the Home Shopping Network and QVC. She later wrote a number of books, including the 2017 autobiography, Raising Trump.
On July 20, Ivana Trump was buried at Trump National Golf Club. Her grave, the New York Post reports, is “in a place where golfers would not see it as they tee off for a round” but “not too far from the main clubhouse.” She is the first person known to be buried at the club.
Prior to her interment, the Trump Organization held a funeral for her in New York City, where her body lay in a coffin with a “golden hue,” according to the New York Times.
Afterthe burial, some critics pointed out that by using an area of the golf course as a cemetery, the Bedminster property could be eligible for tax breaks under New Jersey law.
According to the Garden State’s tax code, “cemetery companies” — any entity that “owns, operates, controls, or manages land or places” used for the burial of human remains — is exempt from many forms of taxation. Those include property taxes “on lands dedicated to cemetery purposes,” income taxes, sales and use taxes, business taxes, and inheritance taxes.
Additionally, cemetery property, the Division of Taxation says online, is “exempt from sale or collection of judgments,”as are cemetery trust funds and trust income.
Possibly. If the golf course is defined as a cemetery, the business may be able to receive tax breaks. But, as the Guardian reports, anytax breaks likely wouldn’t apply to the entire property, as the cemetery tax exemptions apply only to plots less than 10 acres. Trump National Golf Club comes in at more than 500 acres, while the plot where Ivana Trump is buried reportedly measures about 1.5 acres, according to the Daily Mail.
Brooke Harrington, a Dartmouth College sociology professor and tax researcher, tweeted over the weekend that Donald Trump employing the golf course as a cemetery is a “trifecta of tax avoidance.” She added that there is “no stipulation regarding a minimum # of human remains necessary for the tax breaks to kick in” and that having one body buried there could “suffice to make at least 3 forms of tax vanish.”
“If Trump did this for the tax break, he may well have complied with NJ law — which case there would be no legal basis for punishment,” Harrington said.
A Trump Organization representative said in an email to Fortune that calling Ivana’s grave a way to avoid taxes was “truly evil.”
Trump appears to have been trying to get some form of cemetery on the golf club’s grounds for more than a decade. According to a 2012 NPR report, in 2007, he hoped to build a mausoleum there where he would one day be buried — a plan to which locals objected.
Trump later withdrew that plan, and came back with another to build a cemetery with about 1,000 graves, according to a 2017 Washington Post report. That plan then reportedly changed to a small, 10-plot cemetery for Trump and his family members. Then, the proposal was amended to include 284 plots, but the cemetery has not been built, Business Insider reports.
Yes. According to a 2016 Wall Street Journal report, tax laws in New Jersey allowed Trump to save tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes by receiving a farmland assessment tax break because the course has about 113 acres of hay farming land and a herd of eight goats.
A 2019 Huffington Post write-up, meanwhile, notes that 183 acres of the property set aside as agricultural land were taxed at a much lower rate in 2019 — around $6 an acre instead of $462 an acre.