In 2017, Congress doubled the exemption starting in 2018, and the amount will continue to rise with inflation through 2025. This expansion helped reduce the number of taxable estates to about 1,300 for returns filed in 2020 from about 5,200 in 2017, according to the latest IRS data.
The expanded estate and gift tax exemptions expire at the end of 2025, which is not as far away as it seemed in 2017. For 2021, the lifetime exemption for both gift and estate taxes was $11.7 million per individual, and in 2022, an inflation adjustment boosted it to $12.06 million per person. The increase is set to lapse in 2025, according to the article “Estate and Gift Taxes 2021—2022: What’s New This Year and What You Need to Know” from The Wall Street Journal.
However, in 2019 the Treasury Department and the IRS issued “grandfather” regulations to allow the increased exemption to apply to earlier gifts, if Congress reduces the exemption in the future.
Let’s say Josh gives assets of $11 million to a trust to benefit heirs in 2020. The transfer had no gift tax because it was under the $11.58 million for 2020. If Congress lowers the exemption to $5 million per person and Josh dies in 2023, when the lower exemption is in effect, as the law now stands, the estate will not owe tax on any portion of his gift to the trust, even if $6 million is above the $5 million lifetime limit in effect at the time of his death.
Current law also has investment assets held at the time of death exempt from capital gains tax, known as the “step up in basis.” If Robin dies owning shares of stock worth $100 each, originally purchased for $5 each and held in a taxable account, the estate will not owe capital gains tax on the $95 growth of each share. The shares will go into Robin’s estate at their full market value of $100 each. Heirs who receive the shares have a cost basis of $100 as the starting point for measuring taxable gains or losses when they sell.
The annual gift tax exemption has risen to $16,000 per donor, per recipient, for 2022. A generous person can give someone else assets up to the limit every year, free of federal gift taxes. A married couple with two married children and six grandchildren could give away as much as $320,000 to their ten family members, plus $32,000 to other individuals, if they wished.
Annual gifts are not deductible for income tax purposes. They also do not count as income for the recipient. Gifts above the exclusion are subtracted from the giver’s lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. However, a married could use “gift splitting” to let one spouse make up to $32,000 of tax-free gifts per recipient on behalf of both partners. A gift tax return must be filed in this case to document the transaction for the IRS.
If the gift is not cash, the giver’s cost basis carries over to the recipient. If someone gives a family member a share of stock worth $1,000 originally acquired for $200, neither the giver nor the recipient owes tax on the gift. However, if the recipient sells, the starting point for measuring taxable gain will be $200. If the share is sold for $1,200, for instance, the recipient’s taxable gain would be $1,000.
For some families, “bunching” gifts for five years of annual $16,000 gifts to a 529 education account makes good sense. A gift tax return should also be filed in this case. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you in creating a gifting strategy to align with your estate plan and minimize taxes.
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Reference: The Wall Street Journal (March 10, 2022) “Estate and Gift Taxes 2021—2022: What’s New This Year and What You Need to Know.”