The tax code places limits on the amounts that individuals can gift to others (as money or property) without paying taxes. This is meant to keep individuals from using gifts to avoid the estate tax that is imposed upon inherited assets. This can be a significant issue for family-operated businesses when the business owner dies; such businesses often have to be sold to pay the resulting inheritance (estate) taxes. This is, in large part, why high-net-worth individuals invest in estate planning.
Individuals with large estates generally want to gift portions of their estate to beneficiaries while they are still living, to avoid or lessen the estate tax when they pass away. That can be done through annual gifts (up to the inflation-adjusted annual limit for each gift recipient each year – $15,000 for 2019) and/or by utilizing the unified gift-estate exclusion for gifts in excess of the annual exclusion amount. The tax reform virtually doubled the unified gift-estate exclusion for years 2018 through 2025, after which – unless further extended by Congress – it will return to its inflation-adjusted former amount. This has caused concerns related to what the tax consequences will be for post-2025 estates if the decedent, while alive, had made gifts during the 2018-through-2025 period utilizing the higher unified gift-estate exclusion. Would that cause a claw back due to the reduced exclusion?
The Treasury Department has proposed taxpayer-friendly regulations to implement changes made by the tax reform, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). As a result, individuals planning to make large gifts between 2018 and 2025 can do so without concern that they will lose the tax benefit of the higher exclusion level for those gifts once the exclusion decreases after 2025.
In general, gift and estate taxes are calculated using a unified rate schedule on taxable transfers of money, property, and other assets. Any tax due is determined after applying a credit based on an applicable exclusion amount.
The applicable exclusion amount is the sum of the basic exclusion amount established in the statute plus other elements (if applicable) described in the proposed regulations. The credit is first used during life to offset gift tax, and any remaining credit is available to reduce or eliminate estate tax.
The TCJA temporarily increased the basic exclusion amount from $5 million to $10 million for tax years 2018 through 2025, with both dollar amounts adjusted for inflation. For 2018, the inflation-adjusted basic exclusion amount is $11.18 million; for 2019, it is $11.4 million. In 2026, the basic exclusion amount will revert to the 2017 level of $5 million, adjusted for inflation.
To address concerns that an estate tax could apply to gifts exempt from gift tax through the increased basic exclusion amount, the proposed regulations provide a special rule that allows the estate to compute its estate tax credit using the higher of the basic exclusion amount applicable to gifts made during life or the basic exclusion amount applicable on the date of death.
If you have any questions related to gifting and estate planning, please give this office a call.
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