Due to provisions contained the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the estate tax was repealed for 2010. However, the estate tax is scheduled to return to its pre-2001 existence on January 1, 2011. For this reason it really has not had much impact on long term estate planning unless you were somehow certain that you were going to pass away in 2010.
The thing about the return of the estate tax in 2011 that is quite relevant is the fact that the exclusion amount will return to $1 million. It was $3.5 million when we last had to contend with the levy in 2009, so many estates that were previously protected are now going to be vulnerable to the estate tax. If you are in this position, or if the value of your estate has always exceeded the exclusion amount, a useful strategy that can be implemented to gain tax efficiency is that of gift giving.
The idea is that if you give gifts to your heirs while you are still alive you reduce the value of your estate to the point where it comes in under the $1 million exclusion amount. Of course, there is a gift tax to discourage this, but there are significant exemptions. The lifetime gift tax exclusion is $1 million, so you can give gifts at any time and in any increments throughout your life free of the gift tax as long as the value of these gifts does not exceed $1 million.
However, in addition to this lifetime exclusion, each taxpayer is entitled to give as much as $13,000 annually to an unlimited number of recipients, and these gifts don't count against your lifetime gift tax exclusion. You may also make unlimited educational and medical gifts, paying the tuition or medical expenses of as many people as you would like to equaling any sum of money free of the gift tax.
Contact our office today to schedule a complimentary consultation on how tax free gifts may reduce your estate's exposure to future estate taxes.