If you are fortunate enough to have a large estate – one large enough to be subject to the estate tax upon your death – you might be considering ways to give away some of your wealth to your family and loved ones now, thereby reducing the estate tax when you pass on.
Frequently, taxpayers think that gifts of cash, securities, or other assets they give to other individuals are tax-deductible; in turn, the gift recipient sometimes thinks income tax must be paid on the gift received. Nothing can be further from the truth. To fully understand the ramifications of gifting, one needs to realize that gift tax laws are interrelated with estate tax laws, and Uncle Sam does not want you giving away your wealth before you pass away to avoid the estate tax. For 2017, Uncle Sam allows $5.49 million (lifetime estate tax exclusion) to pass to your heirs’ estate tax free, and any excess amount is subject to an estate tax as high as 40%.
Amounts you gift prior to your death reduce the lifetime estate tax exclusion and will therefore subject more of your estate to taxation.
The law does provide exceptions where gifts can be made without reducing the lifetime exclusion, including the following:
- $14,000 each to any number of individuals during every tax year. The amount is periodically adjusted for inflation, but the amount for 2017 is $14,000. The recipient does not have to be a relative and can be a minor.
- Directly pay medical expenses. This applies to amounts paid by one individual on behalf of another individual directly to a medical care provider as payment for that medical care. Payments for medical insurance qualify for this exclusion.
- Directly pay education expenses. This applies to amounts paid by one individual on behalf of another individual directly to a qualifying educational organization as tuition for that other individual. The tuition can be for any level of schooling – elementary, secondary and post-secondary. Costs of room and board aren’t eligible as direct payments, nor are contributions to qualified tuition programs (also known as Sec. 529 plans), which have their own gifting rules not covered in this article.
If the gift giver is married and both spouses agree, gifts to recipients made during a calendar year can be treated as split between the husband and wife, even if only one of them made the cash or property gift. Thus, by using this technique, a married couple can give $28,000 a year to each recipient under the annual limitation discussed previously.
High-Wealth Individuals – If you are a high-wealth individual who would like to pass on as much to your heirs as possible while living without reducing the lifetime exemption, you could directly pay your heirs’ medical expenses and education expenses in addition to annual gifts of cash or property of up to $14,000. You may want to do this, even if you are not a high-worth individual, to avoid having to file a gift tax return.
Medical Expenses – Except in rare circumstances, you cannot deduct the medical expenses you pay for another person, and they cannot deduct the expenses either, since they did not pay the expenses. Thus, careful consideration should be given regarding whether you make the gift directly to the individual, subject to the $14,000 annual limit – which would allow the recipient of your generosity to pay the medical expenses and claim the medical deduction on his or her tax return – or whether you pay the medical expenses directly. If the medical expenses you want to pay are greater than $14,000, then you could always gift $14,000 to the individual and pay the balance directly to the care provider(s) to avoid reducing your lifetime exclusion. Under rare circumstances, the recipient who will benefit from your gifts may qualify as your medical dependent, under which circumstance you would be able to deduct the medical expenses if they had been paid directly to the doctor, hospital or other provider.
Education Expenses – When you pay the qualified post-secondary education tuition for another individual, it does not mean – as is usually the case for medical expenses – that someone cannot benefit taxwise. Tax law says that whoever claims the exemption for the student is entitled to the American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit for higher education expenses if they otherwise qualify.
Gifts of Appreciated Property – Consider replacing your cash gifts with gifts of appreciated property, such as stock for which you have a “paper gain.” When you gift an appreciated asset, the potential gain on the asset transfers to the recipient. This works for individuals, except for children who are subject to the kiddie tax, which requires the child’s income to be taxed at the parent’s tax rate if it is higher than the child’s rate. It also works great for contributions to charitable organizations. Although not subject to the gift tax rules, not only does an appreciated asset gifted to a charity get you out of reporting any gain from the appreciation, but you also get a charitable tax deduction equal to the fair market value (FMV) of the asset. The deduction for these gifts is generally limited to 30% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), but the excess carries over for up to five years of future returns.
Please contact an LCS&Z, L.L.P. professional if you need assistance with planning your gifting strategies.