New York Estate Planning Lawyers are often asked by their clients about making gifts to family members or friends or charities. When considering a gift there are a number of items that should be part of a list of basic considerations.
1. It is important to identify the person to whom the gift is to be made. While this seems rather basic, it is not always easy to provide a gift to the person to whom you want to benefit. For example, if you desire to make a gift to a grandchild or other person who is a minor, some alternative method such as a trust or a Uniform Gift to Minors Act account may be needed since the minor cannot receive the asset in his or her own right. It may be that the donor of the gift may not want to make a gift that is in a trust or a restricted account and may feel comfortable just providing funds outright to a minor's parent with the confidence that the parent will use the gift solely for the minor's benefit.
A similar situation may arise where an individual desires to gift assets to a person who is disabled or incapacitated. Such situations may require the establishment of a Supplemental Needs Trust to protect the governmental benefits received by the intended donee.
2. Another consideration is the financial effect that the gift may have on the donor and the donee. Thought should be given as to whether the donor can afford to make the gift and whether the loss of the asset will affect the donor's standard of living or future retirement planning. As to the donee, it should be determined whether receipt of the asset might increase the donee's income tax bracket or create complications regarding the donee's estate plan by exceeding federal or state exemptions. Additionally, the donee's physical condition may be a factor since it would not be beneficial to provide assets to a person whose medical costs may skyrocket, especially where those costs might be paid by government programs such as Medicaid.
3. Of course, the gift tax impact of any gift is always important. This is especially true at present since the current Federal tax laws allow a combined estate and gift tax exemption of just over $5,000,000. In view of the uncertainty of the future of this exemption after December 31, 2012, many high net worth individuals are looking to use up their exemption by gifting assets having a value of up to $5,000,000 before the end of the year.
While such a planning step appears to be beneficial, there are certain circumstances where the gifting of assets can be troublesome. A recent article in Forbes on November 19, 2012 by Peter J. Reilly, "IRS Position on Wandry Decision Makes 2012 Gifting More Difficult", provides an excellent discussion of some mine-fields. As reported in the article, the IRS has announced its non-acquiesence to a Tax Court memorandum opinion which essentially allowed a donor, through a formula clause, to modify his gift percentage interests of a family LLC after the IRS had revalued same.
In the event the IRS revalues a gift after an audit, the possibility exists that the $5,000,000 exemption gift is determined to really be a $7,000,000 gift resulting in thousands of dollars of unintended gift taxes being due.
As in all estate and trust and estate planning contexts, it is necessary to consider both the practical and tax implications of asset transfers and the manner in which such dispositions are made, whether by a gift, a Last Will and Testament and a Trust. Discussions with other family members and advisors such estate planning lawyers and accountants is the best method to avoid unintended results.