Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gifting And The Rest of 2012

I met with a client last week who has a child with special needs. His daughter has a syndrome I cannot remember, except that it is quite rare and was named after a physician who practiced at Children’s Hospital here in Cincinnati. He is concerned about her welfare, especially after he passes away. We wound up talking about gifting and expected changes in gift tax law.
Let’s talk about the gift tax today.
There is an opportunity to gift up to $5,120,000 without paying gift tax, but this expires at the end of 2012. If you are married, then double that amount (10,240,000). If you exceed that amount, then gift tax is 35%. The $5,120,000 is set to drop to (approximately) $1,360,000 in 2013, and the 35% rate is slated to increase to 55%. If you are in or above this asset range, 2012 is a good time to think about gifting.
Here are some gifting ideas to consider:
(1)   Use up your $13,000 annual exemption per donee. This is off-the-top, before you even start counting. If you are married, you can have your spouse join in the gift, even if you made the gift from your separate funds. That makes the exempt gift $26,000 per donee.
(2)   Let’s say that gifting appeals to you, but you do not want to part with $5,120,000. Perhaps you could not continue your standard of living. I know I couldn’t. One option is to have one spouse gift up to $5,120,000 without gift splitting. This preserves the (approximately) $1,360,000 exemption for future use by the other spouse.
(3)   By the way, gifting between spouses does not count as a taxable gift. Should one spouse own the overwhelming majority of assets, then consider inter-spouse gifting to better equalize the estates. This is more of an estate planning concept, but it may regain interest if the estate tax exemption decreases next year.
(4)   Consider intrafamily loans. The IRS forces you to use an IRS-published interest rate, but those interest rates are at historic lows. For example, you can make a 9-year loan to a family member and charge only 0.92% interest. Granted, the monies have to be repaid (or gifted), but the interest is negligible.
(5)   Consider a family limited partnership. We have spoken of FLPs (pronounced “flips”) before. A key tax benefit is being able to discount the taxable value of the gift for the lack of control and marketability associated with a minority interest in the FLP.
(6)   Consider income-shifting trusts to move income and asset appreciation to younger family members. A common use is with family businesses. Say that you own an S corporation, for example. Perhaps the S issues nonvoting stock and you transfer the nonvoting stock to your children using Qualified Subchapter S trusts.
(7)   Consider a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT). With this trust, you receive an annuity for a period of years. The shortest period I have seen is 2 years, but more commonly the period is 5 or more years. The amount you take back reduces the amount of the gift, of course, but not dollar-for-dollar. I am a huge fan of GRATs.
(8)   Consider a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT, pronounced “Q-pert”). This is a specialized trust into which you put your house. You continue to live in the house for a period of years, which occupancy reduces the value of the gift. If you outlive that period then you can continue to live in the house, but you must begin paying fair market rent to the trust.  I have seen these trusts infrequently and usually with second homes, although I also can see a use with a principal residence in Medicare/Medicaid planning.
(9)   Consider a life insurance trust (ILIT, pronounced “eye-let”). This trust buys a life insurance policy on you, and its purpose is to keep life insurance out of your estate. You might pay the policy premiums on behalf of the trust, using your annual gift tax exclusion. This setup is an excellent way to fund a “skip” trust, which means the trust has beneficiaries two or more generations below you. The “skip” refers to the generation-skipping tax (GST), which is yet another tax, separate and apart from the gift tax or the estate tax.
(10)  Consider a dynasty trust if you are planning two or more generations out. This technique is geared for the very wealthy and involves an especially long-lived trust. It is one of the ways that certain families (the Kennedy’s come to mind) that family wealth can be controlled for many years. A key point to this trust is minimizing or avoiding the generation-skipping tax (GST) upon transfer to the grandchildren or great grandchildren. The GST is an abstruse area of tax law, even for many tax pros.

OBSERVATION: You could incur both a gift tax and a GST tax. That would be terribly expensive and I doubt too many people would do so intentionally.

Although not frequently mentioned, remember to consider any state tax consequence to the gift. For example, does the state impose its own gift tax? If you live in California, would the transfer of real estate reset the assessable value for property taxes?

It is frustrating to plan with so much uncertainty about tax law. We do know that – for the balance of this year – you can gift over $5 million without incurring a gift tax liability. That much is a certainty. If this is you, please think about this window in combination with your overall estate plan. This opportunity may come again – or it may not.

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