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.