Estate and Gift Tax Exemptions for 2016

 

As of 2016, the following Estate and Gift tax exemptions are in effect:

  • Estate Tax Exemption - $5,450,000 (U.S. Citizens and Residents)
  • Annual Gift Tax Exemption - $14,000 (U.S. Citizens and Residents)
  • Gifts Between Spouses - Unlimited (U.S. Citizens only)
  • Nonresident Alien Estate Tax Exemption - $60,000 (may be subject to foreign treaty)
  • Gifts to Non-Citizen Spouse - $148,000 (in lieu of unlimited marital deduction)

Estate & Gift Tax

Am I required to file an estate tax return?

If the decedent is a U.S. citizen or resident and decedent’s death occurred in 2016, an estate tax return (Form 706) must be filed if the gross estate of the decedent, increased by the decedent’s adjusted taxable gifts and specific gift tax exemption, is valued at more than the filing threshold for the year of the decedent’s death. The filing threshold for 2016 is $5,450,000, for 2015 is $5,430,000, for 2014 is $5,340,000, for 2013 is $5,250,000, for 2012 is $5,120,000, and for 2011 is $5,000,000. An estate tax return also must be filed if the estate elects to transfer any deceased spousal unused exclusion (DSUE) amount to a surviving spouse, regardless of the size of the gross estate or amount of adjusted taxable gifts. The election to transfer a DSUE amount to a surviving spouse is known as the portability election.

An estate tax return may need to be filed for a decedent who was a nonresident and not a U.S. citizen if the decedent had U.S.-situated assets.

How do I elect portability of the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion (DSUE) amount to benefit the surviving spouse?

In order to elect portability of the decedent’s unused exclusion amount (deceased spousal unused exclusion (DSUE) amount) for the benefit of the surviving spouse, the estate’s representative must file an estate tax return (Form 706) and the return must be filed timely. The due date of the estate tax return is nine months after the decedent’s date of death, however, the estate’s representative may request an extension of time to file the return for up to six months. An automatic six month extension of time to file the return is available to all estates, including those filing solely to elect portability, by filing Form 4768 on or before the due date of the estate tax return.

How many annual exclusions are available?

The annual exclusion applies to gifts to each donee. In other words, if you give each of your children $11,000 in 2002-2005, $12,000 in 2006-2008, $13,000 in 2009-2012 and $14,000 on or after January 1, 2013, the annual exclusion applies to each gift. The annual exclusion for 2014, 2015, and 2016 is $14,000.

What are the tax advantages to setting up an irrevocable trust to own an insurance policy?

Although life insurance is generally not subject to income taxation upon the death of the insured, it is subject to estate taxes if the insured owns the policy (or has other ownership rights).

Owning a life insurance policy results in all or a portion of the insurance proceeds being included in the insured’s estate and therefore taxed when death occurs, thereby substantially defeating the purpose of buying the life insurance.

While it is true that life insurance which is received by a spouse is not subject to estate or inheritance taxes because of the unlimited marital deduction (assuming the surviving spouse is a citizen of the United States), those same proceeds will be included in the spouse’s estate later on when he or she dies. Therefore, life insurance trusts are often a good idea even when there is a surviving spouse to receive the proceeds.

Life insurance trusts offer a number of significant advantages over outright ownership. For starters, the trust will insulate the proceeds from the claims of creditors and from spouses in a divorce.

Also, life insurance trusts can be written to last for children’s lifetimes and then pass without estate taxes to additional trusts for grandchildren. This is a feature commonly referred to by estate planning lawyers as “generation skipping planning.” Your children shouldn’t be alarmed by the words “generation skipping” because you are not skipping them. Your children can serve as trustees of their trusts, and they can be given the power to make distributions to themselves or their children according to fairly liberal standards. Normally, trusts like the ones being described would allow your children to make distributions for their health, education, maintenance and support. And your children would be the ones determining how much money it takes to maintain and support themselves. Even though the life insurance proceeds will be held in a trust, your children would not be prevented from using the trust funds.

What gifts can I make without having to pay gift taxes?

As of 2015, every year, you can give any person you want as much as $14,000 without any gift tax consequences. This dollar amount is known as the annual exclusion, and it is now indexed for inflation. It will be increasing from time to time in $1,000 increments.

If you are married, the amount you can give to each person doubles to $28,000 since the person receiving the gift can receive $14,000 from each spouse. Gifts can be in the form of cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, or anything else of value. Buying real estate or bonds in the names of one or more other persons is the same as making a gift of that property to them. The value of the gift would be the amount of money you spent to buy the property or the bond.

You can also make tuition payments for any person you choose, and these payments do not count toward the $14,000 annual limit. Payments you make for medical expenses don’t count against the $14,000 limit either. However, if you make a tuition or medical payment, be sure to pay the school, hospital or doctor directly, as a check made payable to a person which is used for tuition or medical care counts towards the $14,000 annual limit.

If you want to give more than $14,000 to any one person, to the extent your gifts exceed $14,000, you will use up a portion of your $5,430,000 lifetime exemption. This is the amount each person can give away without having to pay gift or estate taxes. By way of example, if you give one of your children $45,000 this year, you can exclude the first $14,000 under the annual exclusion, and the other $31,000 will leave you with a remaining lifetime exemption of $5,398,000.

Keep in mind that if the gifts to any person exceed $14,000 during a single calendar year, you will be required to file a gift tax return by April 15th of the following year to report the gift. That is how the IRS keeps track of how much of your $5,430,000 lifetime exemption is still available. Once you have given away more than the $5,430,000 lifetime limit, you must start paying gift taxes. The estate and gift tax rate is presently 40%.

Before making large gifts, it is often a good idea to talk to an estate planning attorney. Once gifts are made, you can’t go back and do things a better way. For instance, if you are planning to make really large gifts, then it may be wise to create trusts for the benefit of your children. There are a number of important advantages to creating trusts, with few downsides.

What is “Fair Market Value?”

Fair Market Value is defined as: “The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts. The fair market value of a particular item of property includible in the decedent’s gross estate is not to be determined by a forced sale price. Nor is the fair market value of an item of property to be determined by the sale price of the item in a market other than that in which such item is most commonly sold to the public, taking into account the location of the item wherever appropriate.” Regulation §20.2031-1.

What is considered a gift?

Any transfer to an individual, either directly or indirectly, where full consideration (measured in money or money’s worth) is not received in return.

Who pays the gift tax?

The donor is generally responsible for paying the gift tax. Under special arrangements the donee may agree to pay the tax instead. Please visit with your tax professional if you are considering this type of arrangement.

Will my same-sex spouse be considered a surviving spouse for purposes of the marital deduction for estate tax purposes?

For federal tax purposes, the terms “spouse,” “husband,” and “wife” includes individuals of the same sex who were lawfully married under the laws of a state whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same sex and who remain married.  Also, the Service will recognize a marriage of individuals of the same sex that was validly created under the laws of the state of celebration even if the married couple resides in a state that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.

However, the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” do not include individuals (whether of the opposite sex or the same sex) who have entered into a registered domestic partnership, civil union, or other similar formal relationship recognized under state law that is not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state, and the term “marriage” does not include such formal relationships.

All property that is included in the gross estate and passes to the surviving spouse is eligible for the marital deduction.  The property must pass “outright.”  In some cases, certain life estates also qualify for the marital deduction.

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