Gifting and other estate tax reduction strategies have been at the forefront of many estate planning discussions as we approach the holidays due to the uncertainty over the estate and gift tax rules for next year. While current Federal estate and gift tax rates have been relatively favorable, much less favorable rules are set to go into effect in January.
Currently, the federal estate and gift tax exemption is $5.12 million, meaning those with estates worth less than that, or who give away less than that, will not pay Federal estate or gift taxes (the Massachusetts exemption is $1M). The tax rate on estates and gifts above the exemption is a flat 35 percent.
However, unless Congress and the President can agree on a compromise, the Federal estate and gift tax exemption will be reduced to the $1 million credit that was in effect before the Bush tax cuts were enacted. Simultaneously, the maximum estate and gift tax rate will rise to 55 percent.
Gifting Opportunities for Your Estate
Nevertheless, many people are getting ready to make gifts to their loved ones to help reduce their estates. This is because, regardless of what Congress does, you should still be able to rely on the annual gift tax exclusion to shelter lifetime transfers to family members and loved ones. The annual gift tax exclusion hasn’t been affected by other tax law modifications over the last decade and that isn’t expected to change. By systematically giving gifts that qualify for the exclusion, you can gradually reduce the size of your taxable estate over time, thereby reducing your potential estate tax liability.
The current annual gift tax exclusion is $13,000, and it will increase to $14,000 in 2013. You can give gifts of cash or property to an unlimited number of recipients up to this amount each year without any gift tax consequences. The annual exclusion is doubled for joint gifts made by a married couple, although you must file a gift tax return for these joint gifts.
Other gifting opportunities include paying for a loved one’s medical or educational expenses: No gift taxes are imposed on amounts used to pay these costs for another person as long as the bills are paid directly to the provider or institution.
Creating a Planned Gifting Program
In addition to the annual gift exclusions, you can also reduce your taxable estate by bestowing sizeable gifts on as many family members as you desire over a given period of time to reduce your estate tax exposure.
For example, a couple who own $2 million in assets and three adult children could give $28,000 to each child each year for the next five years. By the end of the five-year period, they will have reduced their joint estate by $1.4 million, leaving as estate worth $600,000 (plus earnings in the interim). This would eliminate their exposure to both state and Federal estate taxes. Gifts could be made into an irrevocable trust in order to get assets out of your estate but not subject them to your heirs’ creditors and manage their spending.
However, you must be careful when considering gifting highly appreciated assets such as real estate or stock, as they may expose your beneficiary to capital gains taxes. Gifting through a trust can avoid this outcome as well.
To explore how gifting may benefit your estate, contact the Heritage Law Center.