With inflation, the current federal estate tax exemption amount, which you can have when you die without paying federal estate tax, increased to $12.92 million for individuals for 2023. That’s up from $12.06 million in 2022. It will jump to $25.84 million for couples in 2025, up from $24.12 million in 2024. However, those rates sunset at the end of 2025. Without action from Congress, the exemptions will revert to the levels in place before the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased them. That’s about half the amount the exemption has grown to by then due to inflation, says Microsoft’s recent article entitled, “If I have $10 million, how much should I give away while I’m alive?”
Few families have faced federal estate taxes in the last few years, as the IRS has seen about 1200 taxable-estate returns in 2020. However, more families would have to look at the effect of estate taxes if the exemption went back down to $6.5 million per individual. A total of 17 states and the District of Columbia also have their own estate tax and inheritance thresholds. While a number like $6.5 million sounds big, it’s really now just a healthy 401(k) and a nice house in a big city
If you have something like $10 million, and you decide that giving away $3.5 M is the best tax scenario for your estate, you probably aren’t going to write a check. You’ll be looking into trusts and other advanced estate planning techniques that require the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. Those take time, and there’s no way to push them to a December 31, 2025 deadline.
One reason you’d want to give money away while you’re alive is to lower the size of your estate when you die, which would minimize taxes. If you have assets above the exemption limit set by the IRS, the federal tax will likely be 40% on the amount over that limit. There are a number of ways to give away a significant amount of money to lower the value of your estate. People hesitate because most of those options are irrevocable, so you can’t change your mind later.
An issue is using up your exemption by giving away money. If you have $10 million and pass away after the exemption goes down, you’d owe federal estate tax on the $3.5 million difference. If you had given away that $3.5 million before the end of 2025, you’d have a $3 million exemption remaining, and you could have made a wise tax move — at least as long as you stayed under the new threshold. If you gave away more than $6.5 million between 2018 and 2025 — up to the limit during that time — the IRS says you won’t be penalized.
However, if the exemption stays the same after 2026, at nearly $13 million, if you gave away $3.5 million, you’d have essentially $9.5 million left in lifetime exemption. However, be careful not to use up your entire exemption. If you give everything away while living, you won’t have any exemption left. The annual gift-giving limit without losing any of your lifetime exemptions is $17,000 per recipient in 2023.
Reference: Microsoft (Aug. 7, 2023) “If I have $10 million, how much should I give away while I’m alive?”