Installment G of A to Z is Gift Tax Exemption and Exclusion. The federal government imposes a gift tax on gifts. (Most states, including South Carolina, do not impose a gift tax.) The maker of the gift is generally liable for the tax on the gift. However, all of us are permitted to make a certain amount of gifts without incurring any tax.
The gift tax exemption is the amount of gifts that people can make during their lifetime without having to pay gift tax upon their deaths. This is the lifetime gift tax exemption amount and it currently stands at five million dollars. (The gift tax exemption is unified with the estate tax exemption, so any amount of gifts that reduces your gift tax exemption reduces your estate tax exemption dollar for dollar.)
For example, if you were to make taxable gifts totaling four million dollars during your lifetime, and upon your death you leave a taxable estate worth three million dollars, the four million dollars in gifts will reduce your unified gift tax/estate tax exemption by four million dollars. How much exemption you have left depends on the exemption amount in the year in which you die. This is what is meant by the unified gift tax/estate tax: Taxable gifts made during your lifetime can decrease the amount of estate tax exemption available to your estate after your death.
The other gift tax concept is the gift tax annual exclusion. The gift tax annual exclusion amount currently stands at $13,000.00 per year per person receiving a gift (in 2018 the amount is $15,000.00). This means that you may gift up to $13,000.00 per person per year without reducing your gift tax lifetime exemption amount. Spouses have the option to elect to double the amount of gift they can make to any one person during the year without reducing their lifetime exemption amount, this is called “gift splitting.” Spouses can do this even if the source of the gifts is with one spouse only. This election is made on the gift tax return.
Speaking of gift tax returns, when is one required to be filed? A gift tax return must be filed with the IRS when any person makes a gift to any other one person in a given year in an amount greater than $13,000.00 (or $26,000.00 if spouses elect gift splitting.) Also, a gift tax return must be filed whenever spouses elect gift splitting for a gift made. The gift tax return is generally due by April 15 of the year following the year of the gift. If the gift maker has died before the return is filed, his or her Personal Representative must file the return, and a Personal Representative is permitted to elect gift splitting for gifts made prior to the gift maker’s death.
Unless you give away an amount greater than your gift tax lifetime exemption amount, no gift tax must be paid when the gift tax return is filed. The tax is instead determined after death through the concept of the unified gift tax/estate tax exemption, as described above, ie, the gift made during lifetime reduces the gift tax/estate tax exemption after death.
So there you have a brief primer on the gift tax exclusion and exemption amounts and their interplay with the estate tax regime.
I need to add a disclaimer here: unfortunately, it is impossible to offer comprehensive legal advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. And remember, reviewing this website and my blogs doesn’t make you a client of my Firm: before relying on any information given on this site, please contact a legal professional to discuss your particular situation.
Oh, and the IRS would like me to let you know that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this document is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter that is contained in this document.