With all of the talk about changes to estate taxes, estate planning attorneys have been watching and waiting as changes were added, then removed, then changed again, in pending legislation. The passage of the infrastructure bill in early November may mark the start of a calmer period, but there are still estate planning moves to consider, says a recent article “Gift money now, before estate tax laws sunset in 2025” from The Press-Enterprise.
Gifts are used to decrease the taxes due on an estate but require thoughtful planning with an eye to avoiding any unintended consequences.
The first gift tax exemption is the annual exemption. Basically, anyone can give anyone else a gift of up to $15,000 every year. If giving together, spouses may gift $30,000 a year. After these amounts, the gift is subject to gift tax. However, there’s another exemption: the lifetime exemption.
For now, the estate and gift tax exemption is $11.7 million per person. Anyone can gift up to that amount during life or at death, or some combination, tax-free. The exemption amount is adjusted every year. If no changes to the law are made, this will increase to roughly $12,060,000 in 2022.
However, the current estate and gift tax exemption law sunsets in 2025. This will bring the exemption down from historically high levels to the prior level of $5 million. Even with an adjustment for inflation, this would make the exemption about $6.2 million. This will dramatically increase the number of estates required to pay federal estate taxes.
For households with net worth below $6 million for an individual and $12 million for a married couple, federal estate taxes may be less of a worry. However, there are state estate taxes, and some are tied to federal estate tax rates. Planning is necessary, especially as some in Congress would like to see those levels set even lower.
Let’s look at a fictional couple with a combined net worth of $30 million. Without any estate planning or gifting, if they live past 2025, they may have a taxable estate of $18 million: $30 million minus $12 million. At a taxable rate of 40%, their tax bill will be $7.2 million.
If the couple had gifted the maximum $23.4 million now under the current exemption, their taxable estate would be reduced to $6.6 million, with a tax bill of $2,520,000. Even if they were to die in a year when the exemption is lower than it was at the time of their gift, they’d save nearly $5 million in taxes.
There are a number of estate planning gifting techniques used to leverage giving, including some which provide income streams to the donor, while allowing the donor to maintain control of assets. These include:
Discounted Giving. When assets are transferred into an entity (commonly a limited partnership or limited liability company), a gift of a minority interest in the entity is generally given a discounted value, due to the lack of control and marketability.
Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. The donor transfers assets to the trust and retains right to a payment over a period of time. At the end of that period, beneficiaries receive the assets and all of the appreciation. The donor pays income tax on the earnings of the assets in the trust, permitting another tax-free transfer of assets.
Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts. A donor sets up a trust, makes a gift of assets and then sells other assets to the trust in exchange for a promissory note. If this is done correctly, there is a minimal gift, no gain on the sale for tax purposes, the donor pays the income tax and appreciation is moved to the next generation.
These strategies may continue to be scrutinized as Congress searches for funding sources, but in the meantime, they are still available and may be appropriate for your estate. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if these or other strategies should be put into place.
Reference: The Press-Enterprise (Nov. 7, 2021) “Gift money now, before estate tax laws sunset in 2025”