The IRS recently announced next year’s cost-of-living adjustment amounts. For 2022, the federal gift and estate tax exemption has cracked the $12 million mark: $12.06 million to be exact. Arguably more notable, the annual gift tax exemption has increased by $1,000 to $16,000 per recipient ($32,000 for married couples). It’s adjusted only in $1,000 increments, so it typically increases only every few years.
With the federal gift and estate tax exemption so high, making lifetime gifts to your loved ones may seem less critical than it was in the past. But even if your wealth is well within the exemption amount, a lifetime gifting program offers significant estate planning and personal benefits.
A program of regular tax-free gifts reduces the size of your estate and shields your wealth against potential future estate tax liability. Tax-free gifts include those within the annual gift tax exclusion — for 2021 the exclusion amount is $15,000 per recipient ($30,000 for married couples) — as well as an unlimited amount of direct payments of tuition or medical expenses on another person’s behalf.
Even though estate tax may not seem that important now because it’s not applicable to a vast majority of families, there are no guarantees that a future Congress won’t reduce the exemption amount. Indeed, the gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to be reduced to an inflation-adjusted $5 million on January 1, 2026. And a provision in an earlier version of the Build Back Better Act currently being discussed by Congress also slashed the exemption amount. However, as of this writing, that provision is no longer included in the bill.
The good news is that lifetime gifts remove assets from your estate, including all future appreciation in value, providing some “insurance” against changes in the law down the road.
Taxable gifts — that is, gifts over the annual exclusion amount — may also provide advantages. Although these gifts are subject to tax (or applied against your exemption amount), they can reduce your tax liability by removing future appreciation from your estate.
When contemplating lifetime gifts, be sure to consider income tax implications. Currently, assets transferred at death receive a “stepped-up basis,” meaning that their tax basis increases or decreases to their fair market value amount on the date of death. This would allow your heirs to sell appreciated assets without triggering capital gains taxes.
Assets transferred during life, on the other hand, retain your tax basis, so the recipients could end up with a large tax bill should they sell them.
Even if gift-giving offered no tax advantages, there are many nontax benefits to making lifetime gifts. For example, it allows you to help loved ones or transfer business interests to the next generation.
Regardless of your level of wealth and whether you’re likely to be subject to estate tax, making gifts continues to offer substantial tax and nontax benefits. We’d be pleased to help you take advantage of these benefits.