You’re probably familiar with federal taxes, especially if you see the line item deduction on your check each pay period corresponding to ‘federal income tax’. Fewer people are aware of other types of taxes though, such as capital gains taxes, gift taxes, estate taxes, and perhaps the most overlooked: the generation-skipping transfer tax.
The federal generation-skipping transfer tax (GST) comes into effect when an individual transfers property to another individual at least two generations down from them. These transfers usually involve gifts given from grandparents to grandchildren and/or their descendants. However, the GST tax can also be triggered by gifts given to unrelated individuals (not including the individual’s spouse).
The GST tax is effective for gifts transferred both during the grandparents’ lifetimes and after their death through an inheritance. The recipients of gifts that trigger the GST tax are commonly referred to as “skip persons”.
The GST was first introduced by Congress in 1976 to eliminate the ability for wealthy people to skip over their children and transfer assets directly to grandchildren, thus avoiding inheritance taxes completely, and estate taxes for the first generation. The GST abides by the gift and estate tax exemption limits, but is a separate tax in itself that applies in correspondence and in addition to any present gift and estate taxes.
Typically, the GST tax comes into effect when the amount transferred to “skip persons” is greater than $12.06 million (a transferor’s lifetime GST tax exemption amount allotted for 2022). The lifetime exemption amount consists of all gifts made throughout the transferor’s lifetime, as well as transfers made at death in the form of wills or trusts.
For instance, if a grandparent gifts $50,000 to each of their 6 grandchildren in 2022, then $300,000 is counted against their lifetime exemption allotment of $12.06 million. If this gift amount is exceeded (both during life & death), a flat 40 percent tax is applied to the overage.
If the child of a grandparent passes away before them, there is an exception to the GST tax. In the case that assets are transferred to a grandchild whose parent has already passed away, the GST tax is not applied. This would not be considered generation skipping, since the grandchild essentially assumes the position of the parent who passed away, facilitating an adjacent generation transfer.
The GST tax also doesn’t apply to medical care or tuition payments transferred directly to a designated institution. In this case, a grandparent could financially assist with a grandchild’s college tuition or medical bills if they give the money directly to the college or hospital.
The vast majority of us do not have to worry about the GST tax structure due to the high lifetime transfer amount of $12.06 million. Even so, it’s smart to be aware of the GST tax, and that the lifetime transfer amount is set to be adjusted to $5 million (to account for inflation) in the year 2026.
Proposals to lower the exemption amount are regularly introduced to Congress. That means the GST tax lifetime amount could change at a moment’s notice. Knowledge of the GST tax is vital if you or a loved one plans to transfer assets to grandchildren.
Additionally, one should keep in mind that, although married couples are essentially granted double the exemption amount, the exemption rules to the GST tax are ‘use or lose it’. It does not work in the same way as the estate tax, where a spouse who passes away can have their unused amount distributed to the surviving spouse. Any unused GST tax lifetime exemption amount evaporates at the time of the first spouse’s death.
This is not an exhaustive explanation of the generation-skipping transfer tax, and you will likely have questions based on your unique situation. The GST is a challenging subject, and few have the experience navigating the laws surrounding it than Anderson, Dorn, & Rader. Our team can assist with any questions if you plan to transfer a property amount sufficient to trigger the GST tax. The best outcome is one that satisfies your desire to pass wealth down to the next generation, so when you’d like to start the conversation on transferring your assets, contact Anderson, Dorn, & Rader: Reno’s trusted estate-planning team.