Many people that reside in our area have been very successful financially, and we have developed numerous relationships with high net worth families over the years. We continue to build on them, and it is gratifying to help successful people preserve their legacies for the benefit of their loved ones.
One of the most important things to take into consideration when you are engaged in the estate planning process is the potential for taxation. Though there are state-level estate taxes in some states, there is no such levy in Nevada. However, everyone in all 50 states must be concerned about the ravages of the federal estate tax.
This tax carries a 40% top rate, so we are talking about a significant level of asset erosion. It can be applied on transfers to anyone, even immediate family members, with one exception. If you are married to an American citizen, you can use the federal estate tax deduction to transfer any amount of property to your spouse in a tax-free manner.
At the time of this writing in 2019, the federal estate tax exclusion is $11.4 million. This is the amount that you can transfer to anyone other than your spouse before the estate tax would become applicable. Each year there are adjustments to account for inflation (for example, it was $11.18 million last year), so you will probably see a tick upward in 2020.
The first thought that would naturally cross your mind when you digest all the numbers above would be to give gifts to your loved ones while you are still living to avoid the estate tax.
Wealthy folks used to do this right after the estate tax was initially established in 1916. A gift tax was enacted eight years later to close this window, but it was repealed in 1926. The respite was short-lived, because the federal gift tax was reenacted in 1934, and it was unified with the estate tax in 1976.
As a result of this unification, the $11.4 million exclusion is a unified exclusion. It applies to significant gifts that you give while you are alive along with the estate that will be transferred after your death. This is the bad news, but the qualifier “significant” is the good news.
Relatively modest gifts that you give are not subject to taxation, because there is another gift tax exclusion that sits apart from the unified federal gift and estate tax exclusion. This is the annual per person exemption that allows you to give as much as $15,000 to any number of individuals within a calendar year free of transfer taxes.
This may not sound like much if you are exposed to the estate tax, but it can add up considerably when you see a bigger picture.
If you are married, you and your spouse would have a total of $30,000 to give to an unlimited number of recipients each year. Sustained gift giving over an extended period of time to people that would otherwise be inheriting the money can be an effective estate tax efficiency strategy.
Direct gift giving is a possibility, but this exclusion is often used to fund certain types of trusts, and it can be utilized to transfer assets among members of a family limited partnership.
There are two other types of gifts that can be given without incurring any transfer tax liability. One of them is the educational exemption. Under the tax code, you are allowed to pay school tuition for students without incurring any tax liability for your generosity.
This is a tuition only exemption that does not apply to books, fees, and living expenses. This being stated, you could use your annual $15,000 per person gift tax exclusion to provide extra support.
In addition to the educational exclusion, if you choose to pay medical bills for others, including health insurance premiums, there would be no transfer tax liability.
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