Articles Posted in Gifting

The estate tax, commonly referred to as the “death tax,” affects only certain estates with a taxable value beyond a set figure. For 2023, any estate exceeding a taxable value of $12.92 million is taxed at a rate of 40.00%. While this does not give cause for concern to the vast majority of individuals, these figures can and do change. The estate tax is often a topic of discussion in political debate and frequently changes. As recently as 2017, the amount to trigger estate tax was just under $5.5 millon. In 2008, the amount was $2 million. Future years could see a reduction in the presently-set amount, which could encompass individuals currently exempt from estate tax liability.

This variability poses concern from an estate planning perspective. While a relatively modest estate may be exempt from estate tax one year, it may very well be subject to the tax in another year. Thus, the higher the value of an estate, the more at-risk it is over time of owing an estate tax. To account for this, estate planners have utilized numerous strategies to reduce an estate before death and minimize potential estate tax liability. One such strategy is gifting property away on an annual basis during the testator’s life.

Individuals may gift a set amount of money each year without triggering any tax consequences. The federal government sets an annual exclusion that allows for a certain amount to be gifted tax-free each year to individual recipients. For 2023, the annual exclusion is $17,000 per recipient. In other words, if a mother gives $17,000 to each of her seven children in 2023, then $119,000 is removed from her ultimate estate tax-free. If such gifts are made on an annual basis (subject to each year’s gift tax exclusion amount, which may vary from year-to-year as the estate tax might), the mother can reduce her taxable estate substantially during her life, saving potentially millions of dollars in estate tax upon her death.

How can a single parent avoid homestead to protect a minor child?

            Florida homestead laws are complex, confusing, and enormously important for homeowners with or without an estate plan. Florida homestead law applies to three categories: (1) creditor protection against reaching a primary residence, (2) property tax exemptions and limitations on annual property value increases, and (3) restrictions on how a homeowner may devise property if there is a surviving spouse or a minor child.

Under this third category, Article X, Section 4(c) of the Florida Constitution states that a homestead property cannot be devised if the owner is survived by a spouse or minor child, except to the spouse if there is no minor child. This section only pertains to devises, or post-death transfers of property. A homeowner is free to mortgage, gift, sell, or deed the property freely while the homeowner is still living. If the homestead is jointly owned by both spouses, then the property can be freely transferred as long as both spouses join on the conveyance.

Est. of Pounds v. Miller & Jacobs, P.A., No. 4D21-1362, 2022 WL 39211 (Fla. 4th DCA 2022).

If a will does not specify who should serve as personal representative of an estate, parties can fight over this position through litigation. But what happens if one person obtains a settlement on behalf of an estate, and then another person is appointed as personal representative? The court answered this question in Estate of Pounds v. Miller & Jacobs, P.A., No. 4D21-1362, 2022 WL 39211 (Fla. 4th DCA 2022), giving us insight into why these situations are problematic and why good estate plans need to be carefully drafted.

The decedent died in a motorcycle accident, leaving behind his minor child as the sole heir of the estate. The child’s mother and the decedent’s mother both showed interest in serving as personal representative of the estate, which comes with certain perks, such as earning a personal representative fee, and responsibilities, including distributing estate property. The child’s mother was not married to the decedent.

What to do with 23 and me?

Recent years have seen the rise in ancestry services such as Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. After performing a simple DNA swab, these services provide the subscriber with hereditary and genealogical information that can unlock family history, medical information, and perhaps even long-lost relatives. While these services provide substantial value for our personal lives, they may be problematic in the world of estate planning.

To illustrate, consider the following hypothetical. A man donates to a fertility clinic when he is 20 years old. Many years later, the man is happily married with three adult children. The man then creates a will that reads in part as follows: “I hereby leave my personal savings account, valued at $1,000,000, to my biological children to be divided equally.” This language creates a class gift to a particular class of people, his children, as opposed to naming specific individuals to benefit. While the man’s three children are included in this class gift, as was intended, so too is a fourth biological child resulting from the man’s fertility clinic donation years prior, whom the man never knew existed. Genetic information services can have both intended and unintended consequences, as the three children will find out if the fourth child identifies his father through an ancestry service and later seeks a distribution from the man’s estate under the class gift in the will.

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