It is common knowledge that 2010 is a great year for heirs. If you didn’t know about the 2010 estate tax repeal, all the media coverage of George Steinbrenner’s recent death (and his heirs’ lucky tax break) probably alerted you. Everybody is saying that 2010 is a good year to die… But what about those of us who plan to live through 2010?
According to the New York Times even hale and hearty individuals can save on their taxes in 2010—it just takes a little more planning. “A bigger issue [than the estate tax]… has become the gift tax, which is linked to the estate tax to prevent people from giving away their fortune in life to avoid taxes at death. It now stands at 35 percent, the lowest rate since the 1930s.” The gift tax is a tax on money or property that you give to another individual while you are still living. Currently an individual may give up to $13,000 per year per recipient (or up to $26,000 if you give as a married couple) without incurring gift tax.
If you’re a wealthy parent or grandparent trying to decrease your taxable estate through gift-giving, this is the year to do it for a number of reasons. First, of course, is the historically low 35% gift tax rate. Second, “in addition to the historically low rate, another reason to make sizable gifts this year is that the values of many assets are still depressed. Long-held stocks, real estate and shares in private businesses could all increase in value, and giving them away now will allow them to appreciate with your heirs and not in your estate.” A final reason to consider giving your large gifts before the year is over is that the 35% rate won’t last forever; the gift tax is expected to rise to 55% next year.
How can you take advantage of this lucky confluence of events? Well, as always when you’re dealing with large sums of money (not to mention dealing with the IRS), you’ll want to be careful. We do NOT recommend that you simply write a check for $13,000+. Contact your estate planner or your financial planner to find out how you can safely reduce your taxable estate while giving security to the people you love. A very important caution however: if you believe you may need long term care in the near future, gifting away assets now could make you ineligible for a government long term care subsidy under the Medi-Cal program. Talk to your Elder Law attorney about this before you make the gifts.