Perhaps your daughter recently got married and you want to help her and her husband start their new life. Or maybe they suddenly find themselves in need of financial assistance and turn to you for help.
Fortunately, the IRS allows you to give away a certain amount of assets – from real estate and stocks to cold hard cash – free of taxes every year. In 2024, you can give away up to $18,000 to an individual and not have to pay taxes on the transfer. In fact, you’ll only trigger taxes in 2024 if you’ve given away more than $13.61 million throughout your life.
Understanding the ins and outs of strategic gifting can be important, especially for the wealthy. Speak with a financial advisor today.
What Is The Gift Tax?
A gift is any unilateral transfer of money or property. This means that you give someone assets without receiving either fair value or any value in return. The term “fair value” applies to when you give someone an asset in exchange for payment significantly below its market price. It applies to any kind of transaction so, for example, giving someone real estate, a low-interest loan or access to an income stream would all apply. The classic gift is to simply give someone cash while receiving nothing in return.
There are several exceptions to what the IRS considers a taxable gift. For example, money given to a claimed dependent does not constitute a gift, nor does paying someone’s tuition. However, outside defined exceptions, any unilateral or below-market transfer is considered a gift.
When you make someone a large enough gift, it becomes taxable. The IRS taxes applicable gifts at between 18% and 40% depending on the size of the transfer. You, as the gift giver, pay this tax. Due to the gift tax’s exemptions, it also generally applies only to the very wealthy. But if you need additional help navigating and planning for the gift tax, consider working with a financial advisor.
Gift Tax Exemption
Broadly speaking, the purpose of the gift tax is to prevent people from avoiding estate taxes by simply giving away all their money before they die. As a result, the gift tax only applies to transfers that exceed two fairly high caps.
The first cap is called the annual exclusion. This is the amount of money that you can give away every year without triggering the tax. The annual exclusion is set on a per-recipient basis, meaning that it applies separately to each person to whom you give a gift, and there is no limit to the number of people you can give gifts to under this exemption. In 2023, the annual exclusion limit was $17,000 for individuals and $34,000 for married couples. In 2024, it increases to $18,000 and $36,000, respectively.
The second cap is called the lifetime exemption. This is the amount of money that you can give away throughout your lifetime – and after your death – without triggering either gift or estate taxes. The lifetime exemption is set on a per-donor basis, meaning that all of your gifts/estate collectively apply. It also increases each year, so that even if you have already met the lifetime exemption, each year you can give a little bit more away without triggering any taxes. In 2023, the lifetime exemption was set at $12.92 million for individuals, which allows married couples to give away up to $25.84. In 2024, the lifetime exemption will increase to $13.61 million for individuals and $27.22 million for married couples.
Giving a gift together, as a married couple, is referred to as “gift-splitting.” It allows you to take the doubled exemption rates, but both spouses must consent to the gift and claim it on their tax returns. Either way, whenever you give someone a gift worth more than the annual exclusion you must file Form 709 with your taxes the year after you make the transfer. So, for example, if you give someone $25,000 in 2024, you would file Form 709 with your tax year 2024 forms in 2025.
Whether you want to make a small financial gift or a large one, talking it through with a financial advisor first can potentially help you avoid unexpected tax bills.
How Much Money Can You Gift
So let’s look at how the gift tax applies if you’re hoping to give money to your daughter and her spouse:
Let’s say you’re single and looking to give them a generous financial gift in 2024. You would be able gift a total of $36,000 – $18,000 to your daughter and $18,000 to her spouse – without having to pay taxes on the gifts.
However, you can still give them more than the $18,000 exclusion limit. Any individual gift that exceeds this annual cap simply counts against your lifetime exemption. So, if you gave them $60,000 in 2024, your gifts would be $24,000 over the annual exclusion. This would lower your lifetime exemption from $13.61 million to $13.586 million.
In theory, you could give your daughter and her spouse $36,000 in 2024, and transfer up to $13.61 million in additional assets without having to worry about the gift tax. As a result, you could potentially give them up to $13.646 million in 2024 if your entire exemption was intact.
But don’t forget that the annual exemption renews every year. If you choose, you can create a structured gift that gives your daughter and son-in-law the annual maximum each year indefinitely. You can also top up your gift with each year’s lifetime exemption update.
However, if you need guidance on how much you’re eligible to gift, consider connecting with a financial advisor using SmartAsset’s free matching tool.
The amount that you can gift someone tax-free will depend on how much you have given them this past year and how much you have gifted in total over your lifetime. The IRS allows you to give $17,000 to as many recipients as you want in 2023 and $18,000 in 2024. Gifts that exceed the annual exclusion count against your lifetime exemption limit, which rises to $13.61 million in 2024 from $12.92 million in 2023.
Estate Planning Tips
- A financial advisor can help you manage your assets and organize them within your estate plan. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- If you’re especially wealthy, gifting assets throughout your life is a tax-savvy way to reduce the size of your estate and avoid the federal estate tax when you die.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/skynesher, ©iStock.com/designer491, ©iStock.com/andresr