Thursday, January 13, 2011
Many wealthy people got pitches from their estate planning lawyers last year encouraging them to make taxable gifts. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Lifetime gifts are an important estate-planning tool. Not only do they leave less for the government to tax later, but if the assets increase in value after you have passed them along, the appreciation is tax-free.
Even people in a position to shift substantial wealth to family tend to be reluctant to make gifts so large that they will incur gift tax. Still, for much of 2010, it seemed like a wise financial strategy to do just that. With both the gift tax and the estate tax automatically scheduled to increase to 55% in 2011, the 35% gift-tax rate on gifts of more than $1 million in 2010 looked like a bargain.
If, due to procrastination or lack of interest, you ignored what lawyers then dubbed a unique "opportunity," you avoided a quandary that’s consuming a lot of airtime this week at the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning, the annual Super Bowl on the subject sponsored by University of Miami School of Law. The lawyers meeting here in Orlando are in the awkward position of trying to figure out what clients who followed their advice can now do to reverse those 2010 taxable gifts.
Their collective chagrin stems from the sweeping tax overhaul President Obama signed Dec. 17. Under this law the amount that anyone can transfer tax-free during life went up this year from $1 million to $5 million ($10 million for married couples). So by simply waiting until 2011 to make gifts, it might have been possible to avoid gift tax altogether.