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Incorporating Gifting with an Estate Plan

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Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Gifting sounds pretty simple, but there are many ways to do it, and several tax ramifications to be aware of as well” explains that no matter if a gift is made this year or in future years, there are some important questions to consider.

Increased exemption. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly upped the lifetime gift, estate and generation-skipping tax exemption to $11.58 million per individual ($23.16 million per couple). It’s set to expire at the end of 2025. Thus, there’s the prospect of possibly losing an opportunity to transfer wealth out of your estate and save on future estate taxes earlier than anticipated.

When to Give. A big question is whether a person should give away assets during their lifetime or at their death. Those who opt to gift while they’re alive often do so to reduce their estate and to share in the joy of seeing the effect it makes in the lives of the recipients. Others decide to gift after death for the security of having the assets on hand, if they’re needed. Gifting after death also gives recipients time to prepare for the responsibility that comes along with inheriting wealth.

Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption. There are many ways to distribute assets. What works for one family isn’t necessarily the wisest strategy for another. Note that any transfer is gift tax-free up to the annual exclusion amount ($15, 000 per person per donor in 2020). Any gift over this amount will count against the donor’s lifetime exemption amount. After that lifetime exemption is used, the gift will be subject to gift tax.

Outright cash gifts. This appears to be the most uncomplicated way of gifting. However, for those with significant wealth, this approach could have some drawbacks. These concern the ability and experience gift recipients have to manage money, outside risks, such as a spouse or high-risk professions, and demotivating recipients to live off their inheritance, instead of becoming productive on their own. Therefore, distributing large amounts of money—particularly at a young age—is generally discouraged.

Trusts. These are used frequently for larger gifts to provide for beneficiaries, while using controls by the grantor. These parameters can include things like distributing trust assets in stages (when the beneficiary reaches a certain age or achieves a specific goal). You can also leave assets in a discretionary lifetime trust, which would maintain the assets in a trust for the beneficiary’s entire lifetime. When set up by an experienced estate planning attorney, this offers a high level of protection from divorcing spouses, lawsuits, poor financial decisions and outside influences. It can also let the grantor create a lasting family legacy for many generations.

Gifts for education or medical expenses. Direct payments for college tuition or for medical expenses have no gift tax consequences. Educational gifts can also be made by funding a 529 educational savings plan. While there are no contribution limits for a 529 plan, gifts over the annual exclusion amount can have gift tax consequences or count against the lifetime exemption. You can also pre-fund an account up to $75, 000 and it will receive the same tax treatment, as if it were gifted in $15, 000 increments over five years.

Uniform Trust to Minors Act (UTMA) and Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA). These custodial accounts are generally less restrictive than trusts and let minor beneficiaries access funds at age a specific age depending on state of residence.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 30, 2020) “Gifting sounds pretty simple, but there are many ways to do it, and several tax ramifications to be aware of as well.”

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