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Give Away Gifts With No Gift Tax

It may be better to give than to receive, but not if you’re giving results in a big bill for estate or gift taxes. Still, there are plenty of strategies for avoiding those levies. Making generous gifts now, while favorable rules are in effect, could be an especially effective way to transfer wealth to the next generation.

One way to make tax-free gifts is by using the annual gift tax exclusion. Currently, this provision in the tax code lets you avoid taxation on gifts of up to $14,000 to as many recipients as you choose. If your spouse joins you, the limit rises to $28,000.

Suppose you have two adult children and three grandchildren. If you and your spouse make gifts of the maximum amount to each of those five people, together you can give away $140,000 (5 x $28,000), completely free of gift tax. And you can continue to provide that amount year in and year out without owing taxes on the transfers.

Meanwhile, you could also help family members by paying tuition or medical expenses on their behalf without tax liability, and those payments don’t count against the annual exclusion.

By making a series of lifetime gifts, you could remove substantial assets from your taxable estate, thus reducing potential estate tax liability for your heirs. Also, if younger family members are in a lower income tax bracket than you are, this strategy may provide additional tax savings if they subsequently sell the property you give away. (One complication here is that investment income received by young children may trigger the “kiddie tax,” with much of the income taxed at parents’ rates. Even then, however, making gifts to children is likely to result in a net tax benefit.)

To further sweeten the pot, current law enables you to transfer up to $5 million of assets (indexed for inflation to $5.45 million for 2016) to family members, either through gifts during your lifetime or through a bequest in your will. This $5 million exemption, which is doubled to $10 million for married couples (indexed to $10.9 million for 2016), was preserved by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). Unlike many previous estate tax law changes, this extension under ATRA is permanent.

There are, however, a few potential downsides to consider. First, when you give away property, you no longer have control over it, and that could be a concern if you’re putting money in the hands of those who may be too young to handle it responsibly. Moreover, using part or all of the $5 million exemption ($5.45 million in 2016) to shelter lifetime gifts reduces the amount that could be used to offset future estate taxes.

Planning for how to best transfer money to children and grandchildren can be part of your overall financial strategy. We can work with you and your tax and legal advisors to find an approach that fits your situation.