When are You Required to File a Gift Tax Return?

The IRS wants to know how much you’re gifting over the course of your lifetime. This is because while gifts may be based on generosity, they are also a strategy for avoiding taxes, including estate taxes, reports The Street in a recent article “Do I Need to File a Gift Tax Return?”

Knowing whether you need to file a gift tax return is relatively straightforward. The IRS has guidelines about who needs to file and who does not. Your estate planning attorney will also be able to guide you, since gifting is part of your estate and tax planning.

If you give a gift worth more than $16,000, it is likely you need to file a gift tax return. Let’s say you gave your son your old car. The value of used cars today is higher than ever because of limited supply. Therefore, you probably need to file a gift tax return. If the car title is held by you and your spouse, then the car is considered a gift from both of you. The threshold for a gift from a married couple is $32,000. Make sure that you have the right information on how the car is titled.

What if you added a significant amount of cash to an adult child’s down payment on a new home? If you as a member of a married couple gave more than $32,000, then you will need to file a gift tax return. If you are single, anything over $16,000 requires a gift tax return.

529 contributions also fall into the gift tax return category. Gifts to 529 plans are treated like any other kind of gift and follow the same rules: $16,000 for individuals, $32,000 for married couples.

What about college costs? It depends. If you made payments directly to the educational institution, no gift tax return is required. The same goes for paying medical costs directly to a hospital or other healthcare provider. However, any kind of educational expense not paid directly to the provider is treated like any other gift.

Do trusts count as gifts? Good question. This depends upon the type of trust. A conversation with your estate planning attorney is definitely recommended in this situation. If the trust is a “Crummey” trust, which gives the beneficiary a right to immediately withdraw the gift put into the trust, then you may not need to file a gift tax return.

A Crummey trust is not intended to give the beneficiary the ability to make an immediate withdrawal. However, the withdrawal right makes the gift in the trust a “current gift” and it qualifies for the annual exclusion limit. Recategorizing the gift can potentially exempt the person giving the gift from certain tax obligations. Check with your estate planning attorney.

Even when filing a gift tax return, the amount of tax being paid is usually zero. This is because the gifts are offset by each person’s lifetime exemption. The IRS wants these returns filed to keep track of how much each individual has gifted over time. Unless you are very wealthy and making gift transfers from a family trust or to family members, it is not likely you will ever end up paying a tax. You are, however, required to keep the IRS informed.

Reference: The Street (March 31, 2022) “Do I Need to File a Gift Tax Return?”

What is the Purpose of an ILIT?

Life insurance falls into two categories: life insurance and death insurance. Life insurance is used to take advantage of the tax-free returns that qualifying insurance products enjoy under federal income tax laws. There is a death component. However, the main purpose is to serve as a tax-deferred investment vehicle. Death insurance is used to provide financial security for loved ones after the owner passes, with little or no regard for tax and investment benefits.

Using both types of life insurance in estate planning can be a complicated process, but the resulting financial security is well worth the effort, as reported in a recent article “Keeping an Eye on ILITs” from Financial Advisor.

The Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust is a somewhat complex trust structured under state trust law and tax strategies under federal income tax laws. ILITs have been tested in court cases, audits and private letter rulings, so an estate planning attorney can create an ILIT knowing it will serve its intended purpose.

Life insurance in an ILIT is owned outside of the estate and enhances the after-estate tax wealth for the surviving spouse and heirs. Because the trust is irrevocable, the transfer of ownership is permanent.

The annual insurance premium is typically paid by the insured to the ILIT, subject to “Crummey” withdrawal powers, named after a famous case, which gives named people the power to withdraw all or a portion of the contributed premium amounts within specified periods. The time frame depends on the trust—usually it’s 30 or 60 days, but sometimes it’s annually.

There are many nuances and details.  The ILIT lets an insured buy life insurance “outside of their estate” for estate tax purposes, lets the person treat insurance premiums as non-taxable gifts under the annual exclusion provisions and provides safety and security to the beneficiaries.

The ILIT is often used as part of a buy-sell agreement for privately held family businesses to make it possible for the business itself or business partners to buy out the equity of a deceased partner. The payment obligations may be funded by the proceeds from life insurance. In some cases, each partner buys a traditional insurance policy in an ILIT. The estate planning attorney working on a succession plan can provide advice on the most effective way to use the ILIT.

Another use for the ILIT is for wealthy families with illiquid assets, like an art collection or a large real estate portfolio. An ILIT holding a life insurance policy with a death benefit lets the beneficiaries use the proceeds to pay estate tax liabilities, without dipping into their own or the estate’s assets. The investment returns of the ILIT increase the policy owner’s wealth substantially, without increasing their taxable estate.

Reference: Financial Advisor (December 1, 2021) “Keeping an Eye on ILITs”