Tag Archives: Gift Tax

Gift Taxes in a Nutshell

Title Deed with keys

When does my generosity, or my desire to give gifts during my life, trigger the application of federal tax laws regarding gift taxes? Consider the following scenarios:

  • Declan wants his daughter Fiona to receive his residence at his death. He and his late wife purchased the property for $30,000 in the early 1950s. He signs and records a deed in 2015 that conveys the property to himself and Fiona as joint tenants. As of the date of the conveyance, the property is worth $300,000. He continues to reside there and to pay all property taxes, insurance and maintenance.
  • Teresa opens a bank account in 2014 and transfers $500,000 to the account. She names herself and her son Juan as joint tenants with right of survivorship at the time she opens the account. Under the account terms, both Teresa and Juan have the right to withdraw the entire amount of the bank account at any time. Juan does not withdraw any funds from the account the first year. He withdraws $40,000 in 2015 to pay his college tuition.

Has Declan or Teresa made a taxable gift? If so, when was the gift made and for how much? Could either of them have achieved the same result but avoided the gift tax rules?

The gift tax is a tax imposed on certain gifts made during life. Not every gift is taxable. The IRS allows a generous annual exemption, currently $14,000, per donee. This means you may give up to $14,000 each year to an unlimited number of recipients without having to file a gift tax return. (The amount was established at $10,000 and is increased periodically for inflation; it has been $14,000 since 2013). Also, you may give unlimited gifts to your spouse (if a U.S. citizen) or to §501(c)(3) charities without incurring a tax. You may also pay tuition for education and medical bills on another’s behalf without tax consequence if you pay such amounts directly to the educational institution or health care provider.

Even if you make gifts that are taxable, Congress has provided for a unified credit that allows you to make otherwise taxable gifts throughout life and at death up to a sum total of $5,450,000 (for those who die in 2016) without paying a gift or estate tax. The credit is “unified” in the sense that it is applied both to gifts made during your life time and to gifts made at death from your trust or estate, up to the maximum credit. Each year the unified credit is adjusted upward for inflation. Gifts made above that amount are taxed at a whopping 40%.

Returning to our examples, the fact is that both Declan and Teresa have made taxable gifts that require a gift tax return to be prepared and filed with the IRS; and both could have avoided this result with some good legal advice and planning.

Declan has made a taxable gift of one half the value of the real property, or $150,000, to Fiona. He can count the first $14,000 toward the annual exclusion, but he still must file a gift tax return for the remaining $136,000. Even worse, since the transfer was made during his life time, if and when Fiona sells the house after his death she will have to pay a capital gains tax on the increase in value from the $30,000 purchase price. Had Declan conveyed the property to her at his death, she would have received a step up in basis, meaning the base price for considering a capital gains tax would have been the value at his date of death, rather than the value of the original purchase in the 1950s. This would have been a huge tax savings to Fiona. It would also have eliminated the requirement of the gift tax return.

Teresa makes a gift of $40,000 to Juan in 2015 when he withdraws that amount from the account. She must file a gift tax return for the gift, after offsetting the amount of the annual exclusion. The joint bank account is treated differently than a joint tenancy in real property; until and unless Juan withdraws money from the account over and above any contribution he may have made to the account, there is no gift because Teresa can still withdraw the whole amount. Here, Teresa could have paid Juan’s school directly for the tuition without any gift tax consequence.

Note that for both Declan and Teresa, assuming no previous gifts have been made, no actual tax is due because the unified credit will cover these relatively modest amounts; but the hassle and cost of preparing the gift tax return could have been avoided. Moreover, if either has an estate that will exceed the unified credit at the time of death, these gifts will have negative consequences for their estates.

If you are thinking of making a large gift, it is well worth consulting with your accountant or estate planning lawyer to ensure you take advantage of the gift and estate tax rules to minimize or eliminate your tax liability.

5 Reasons Parents Should Discuss Their Estate Plans with Children

Gift to Grandchildren“What should I tell my children?,” is a common question I hear after clients execute their estate plans.  Few people enjoy discussing their own mortality.  And few parents speak openly to children about what will unfold financially after the parents die.  Parents may fear that by speaking about their estate planning it could ignite a family fight over who will receive what.  Further, many of my clients worry that children may become entitled and lose motivation to be financially responsible.

However, open communication can benefit both generations.  The parents can explain their decisions and the children can better plan their lives.  Further, children can provide feedback about their needs or lack thereof.  Also, parents and children can discuss tax considerations and develop more efficient plans.

Here are five reasons to tell children what is included in your estate plan before you die:

1. You can calm angered heirs.

Resentment among related heirs runs rampant after discovering Dad and Mom’s final wishes for the distribution of their estate.  Talking over the rationale for making unequal distributions can smooth ruffled feathers.  I have seen clients give more to children who have more children of their own as opposed to a child with no offspring.  I have clients who leave a greater share of their estate to a financially irresponsible child in trust so the child will not deplete the assets but they task a responsible child with making the distributions. Such an arrangement can be doubly painful for the financially prudent child. I have also seen heirs who resent their parents for leaving significant bequests to charities.  Parents can explain these decisions during their lifetimes, in their own words, to alleviate angry or bitter feelings.

2.  You can save hassles and prevent mistakes.

Children will be emotionally spent following the death of a parent.  If they have to search far and wide for estate planning documents and assets, they will be psychologically, physically and financially spent too.  Parents should let children know where to locate estate planning documents and what to expect within those documents.  If children are surprised by the deceased’s wishes, they may not execute those wishes properly.

3.  You may benefit your children’s lives now.

Parents should devote time to listening to and learning from their children about their financial wherewithal and work ethic.  Holding regular meetings or open dialogues would provide a golden opportunity for the parent to share their plans with the children.  Parents may withhold assets from children during financial struggles as part of a “tough love” approach. Yet, this approach can be viewed as stingy and cause children to question why Mom and Dad chose to withhold assets during the child’s difficulties.

4. Children might give you a better idea

Many of my clients hold significant wealth in a home or business.  I have had numerous clients wrongfully assume that their children want to keep the valuable home or operate the business.  I have come to expect that parent business owners do not discuss with their children whether the children want to keep the business.  Placing stipulations on the continued operation of a business or keeping a valuable real property in trust may not be the desire of the heirs.  Recently, I dissuaded a client out from keeping a family cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains in trust for his children’s lifetimes.  One child resides in another county and the other child works as a very busy professional in another state and has not been to the cabin in six years.  Seek your heirs input.

5. You may save children taxes

You should consider whether children need additional assets.  Also, be mindful of the type of asset you are passing down to a child.  Consider the difference between an IRA account in which future distributions will be taxed and a rental real estate property with an existing mortgage.  A beneficiary working as a school teacher will likely appreciate the additional income from the IRA much more than a beneficiary working as a highly-paid physician.  For even greater tax savings, you may be able to make asset transfers directly to grandchildren and skip the children altogether.

Facebook Billionaires Avoid Taxes with GRATs

Forbes recently highlighted how Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz established grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) to transfer significant amounts of wealth tax-free.  In 2008, Zuckerberg and Moskovitz established GRATs which will enable the Facebook executives to transfer as much as $185 million to future offspring or others without paying any gift tax.  Most wealthy individuals recognize that this year offers a golden opportunity to transfer $5.12 million in assets without incurring any gift tax. However, the Facebook executives followed a similar tax strategy to the Walmart founders, the Walton family, by funding their GRATs with their rapidly appreciating Facebook shares.

ImageGRATs function by allowing a grantor (Zuckerberg and Moskovitz) to place shares or other assets into an ­irrevocable trust and retain the right to ­receive an annual payment back from the trust for a period of time.  Typically, to avoid the risk of premature death, advisors select a shorter time period of 2 to 4 years. If the grantor survives that period, any property left in the trust when the annual payments end passes to family members, other beneficiaries, or another trust.

A crucial aspect is determining the value of the remainder interest in the annuity. In calculating how much value will be left at the end of the annuity term (the remainder) — and thus how big a gift the grantor is making — the IRS does look at the performance of the actual stock (or any other asset) in the trust. Instead, the IRS assumes the trust assets are earning a meager government-determined interest rate. With a zeroed-out, or “Walton” GRAT, the grantor receives an annuity that leaves nothing for heirs if assets grow only at the IRS’ lowly interest rate. If the assets grow faster, the excess goes to the heirs gift tax free. If assets or stock under-perform or decrease in value, there is no downside for the grantor because the annuity can be paid by returning some shares each year to the grantor.

As a result, a GRAT is an ideal instrument to shift assets you expect to suddenly increase in value.  Hence, rapidly appreciating stock of technology giants (Facebook) or growing retails empires (Walmart) have proven to be the perfect assets to utilize within a GRAT.  President Obama and Democrat legislators have targeted zeroed-out GRATs as tax loopholes of the wealthy and have proposed legislation which would eliminate their use.  Until that time, the GRAT remains a valuable wealth transfer tool.

Choose Lawyers Instead of the Internet

The Internet has changed numerous industries including the legal market.  Despite the many advantages of online services, there are considerable drawbacks when comparing the use of web-based estate planning forms versus hiring a competent attorney. The following list comes from a North Carolina attorney. Rather than relying on the bare information fed into a computer, a skilled lawyer can:

  1. Listen to your goals and desires and incorporate them into your plan.
  2. Offer advice, not just words on paper.
  3. Help with referrals to other trusted professionals.
  4. Make sure that the documents are properly executed.
  5. Make sure that any trusts are properly funded.
  6. Make sure that beneficiary designations are properly completed.
  7. Make sure that accounts and real estate are  properly titled.
  8. Help with managing assets of incapacitated family members.
  9. Help with probate and trust administration.
  10. Help with income, gift and estate tax matters.
  11. Help ensure governmental benefits for disabled or incapacitated family members.
  12. Serve as an advocate in dealing with financial institution and governmental bodies.
  13. Care about you and your family.

Of course, there is a sinister view that attorneys embrace computer-based estate planning programs because such planning generally leads to a much more costly probate proceeding.  To avoid the added cost and delay involved in a probate,  and enjoy the benefits listed above, consult with an estate planning specialist today.

Sloppy Gifting of Real Estate Leads to IRS Mess

The idiom “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered,” is directly relevant to the current, generous gift tax exemption.  During 2011 and 2012, donors may gift up to $5 million in assets without paying any federal gift tax.  The limited window of opportunity, depressed real estate prices, and liberal exemption amount are enticing factors for donors to transfer highly appreciated and/or highly valuable real estate.   Typically, the giver transfers the real estate to one or more family members.

Despite the fact that gift tax is not owed on many of these real estate transfers, the giver must report any gift in excess of $13,000 to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”).  The donor must file Form 709 to report U.S. gift taxes to the IRS.  Irrespective of whether tax is due and payable or the transfer is made to a family member, Form 709 must be filed for gifts in excess of the annual exclusion amount.

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that the IRS is scrutinizing gifts of real estate to family members.  The IRS has obtained real property transfer information from 16 states.  The small sample size revealed noncompliance rates  in excess of 50% which will likely spur on additional IRS examinations of real property.   While this is a favorable time to make gifts of real estate, seek assistance from trusted counsel to properly transfer real estate.

by: Jason C. Morris, Esq.