Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

How Do Gifting Strategies Minimize Estate Taxes?

Understanding the role of strategic gifting provides an opportunity to significantly reduce estate tax liabilities, according to a recent article from Forbes, “6 Effective Gifting Strategies To Minimize Your Estate Taxes.” If your goal is to facilitate wealth transition across generations and preserve wealth, these will be useful to know and use.

The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to give generous gifts to as many people as you want without taxes. In 2023, the maximum amount is $17,000 per person and up to $34,000 for married couples filing jointly. In 2024, this increases to $18,000 per person and $36,000 for married. This provision is a foundation for reducing taxable estates. Your estate planning attorney may recommend setting up an annual gifting schedule or using special occasions like a wedding or the birth of a child to make gifts. You can reduce the eventual estate tax burden by systematically gifting within the exclusion limits each year.

A second strategy is maximizing the lifetime gift tax exemption. Unlike an annual gift, the lifetime gift tax exemption is a cumulative amount you may give away throughout your lifetime without incurring gift taxes. This IRS provision is especially useful for those who wish to transfer substantial wealth. In 2023, the limit is $12.92 million; in 2024, adjusted for inflation, the limit will be $13.61 million.

Using the lifetime exemption includes gifting assets expected to appreciate, like stocks or real property. By gifting these assets earlier, any future appreciations occur outside of your own estate, maximizing the impact of the exemption.

You can enhance this strategy by combining the lifetime exemption with the annual gift tax exclusion. For example, parents might gift their children a portion of their estate annually, staying within the annual exclusion limit, and then use their lifetime exemption for larger gifts.

Medical and educational exclusions allow you to pay for another person’s tuition or medical expenses. The payments must be made directly to the institution and not the individual. Following this important rule allows you to avoid incurring any gift tax or having the amount impact the annual exclusion limit of lifetime exemptions. These payments can only cover tuition and direct medical expenses, not related costs like books or room and board.

Trusts can be used for gifting, allowing you to manage and distribute assets according to your own terms. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you to what best suits your situation. For instance, an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust shelters life insurance proceeds from estate taxes, effectively reducing the taxable estate size. A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust can transfer appreciating assets to beneficiaries, while providing the grantor a fixed annuity, potentially reducing gift taxes.

There is also the Charitable Remainder Trust, which provides income to the donor and later benefits a charity, resulting in income and estate tax advantages.

Charitable giving has long been a favored way to do good while obtaining valuable tax benefits. One approach is to use donor-advised funds, which allow for a charitable contribution, getting an immediate tax deduction, and then recommending grants from the fund over time. Making pledges or binding promises to give to charities can also create current tax deductions while committing to the future of your charity of choice.

Timing gifts and their frequency can have implications for the donor and recipient. Strategic timing needs to address asset value fluctuations and tax law changes. Timing involves market conditions, life events, or anticipated changes in legislation.

The frequency of gifting can also be critical in estate planning. Regular, systematic gifting can steadily reduce the size of the estate, potentially leading to significant tax reductions over time. Be mindful about balancing gifting with personal financial needs to not overextend yourself.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 25, 2023) “6 Effective Gifting Strategies To Minimize Your Estate Taxes”

High Interest Rates Have an Impact on Estate Planning

The Section 7520 rate has been low for the past 15 years and presented many opportunities for good planning. What happens when inflation has returned and rates are moving up, asks a recent article titled “Estate Planning Techniques in a High—Interest—Rate Environment” from Bloomberg Tax.

The Section 7520 rate is the interest rate for a particular month as determined by the IRS. It is 120 percent of the applicable federal midterm rate (compounded annually) for the month in which the valuation date falls and rounded to the nearest two-tenths of a percent. It is used for actuarial planning, to discount the value of annuities, life estates and remainders to present value, and is revised monthly.

In January 2022, the 7520 rate was at 1.6%, but as interest rates increased, it shot up and in December 2022 was 5.2%. This was a 225% increase—unprecedented in the history of the 7520 rate. However, there are four key planning concepts which may make 2023 a little brighter for estate planning attorneys and their clients.

Higher inflation equals higher exemptions. Certain inflation adjusted exemptions and exclusions increased on January 1, 2023. The federal transfer tax exemption rose by $860,000 to $12.92 million, and the annual gift tax exclusion increased to $17,000 from $16,000 in 2022.

These increases give wealthy families the opportunity to make generous new gifts to family members without triggering any transfer taxes. Those who have fully used transfer tax exemptions may wish to consider making additional transfers.

Shift charitable giving to CRTs for higher interest rates. People who might have started Charitable Lead Trusts should instead look at Charitable Remainder Trusts. With both CLTs and CRTs, the value of the income and remainder interests are calculated using the 7520 rate. The key difference, for estate planning purposes, is the impact of a rising rate on the amount of the available charitable deduction.

The return of the QPRT. Qualified Personal Residence Trusts have been hibernating for years because of low interest rates. However, the time has come to return them to use for wealth transfer. A QPRT lets a person transfer a residence at a discounted value, while retaining the right to occupy the residence for a number of years. The 7520 rate is used to determine the value of the owner’s retained interest. The higher the rate, the more value retained by the owner and the smaller the amount of the taxable gift to the remainder beneficiaries, usually the owner’s children.

GRATs still have value. A Grantor Remainder Trust should still be considered in estate planning. A GRAT is more appealing in a low interest environment. However, a GRAT can still be useful when rates are rising. The success or failure of the GRAT usually depends on whether the assets transferred to the GRAT appreciate in value at a rate exceeding the 7520 rate, since the excess appreciation is transferred to the remainder beneficiaries gift tax-free. A GRAT can also be structured as a zeroed-out GRAT. This means that the transfer of assets to the GRAT doesn’t use any of the grantor’s transfer tax exemption or result in any gift tax due. This is still of value to a person who owns assets with significant growth potential, like securities likely to rebound quickly from depressed 2022 values.

Reference: Bloomberg Tax (Dec. 23, 2022) “Estate Planning Techniques in a High—Interest—Rate Environment”

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