Understanding Gift Tax


Feeling generous? A gift is a transfer of money or property to another person, without receiving full monetary consideration in return. The federal gift tax’s purpose is to prevent individuals from avoiding estate tax by giving away that money prior to death. This tax is often misunderstood because of its interconnections with the estate tax.

Your yearly and lifetime gift totals would have to be rather lofty to incur taxes. You can gift up to $15,000 in 2019 without filling out the gift tax form. The annual exclusion applies to each recipient. Therefore, you could gift up to $15,000 to multiple individuals, and the annual exclusion will apply to each gift. There’s also a lifetime gift exclusion—which rises to $11.4 million in 2019.gift

Excluded gifts

There are certain gifts that are not taxable. These include tuition or medical expenses you pay for someone (paid directly to a qualified education or medical institution), gifts to your spouse, gifts to a political organization for its use or gifts to qualifying charities (considered charitable donations). These are the only form of gifts that are deductible on your return.

Gifting specifics

If you and your spouse wish to gift joint assets, like property, your annual exclusion rates are combined and applied to the gift. Meaning, in 2019, you could gift, together, money or property valuing up to $30,000. The lifetime exclusion amount doubles for married couples as well. Special rules also allow givers to spread a large, one-time gift across five years’ worth of tax returns (thus preserving their lifetime gift exclusion). Keep in mind that interest-free loans to friends and family are considered gifts in the eyes of the IRS.gift

The paperwork

Above the annual amount of $15,000, you must file IRS Form 709 to disclose a gift. This form will report the fair market value of the gift, the date of transfer, the donor’s tax basis and the identity of the recipient. If any taxes are incurred on the gift, it is the donor who is responsible for them.* The gift tax rate ranges from 18-40 percent. As with most aspects of your taxes, the IRS favors transparency of transactions and evidence. This means, in addition to Form 709, be prepared to provide copies of appraisals for the gift and any documents related to the gift’s transfer.

*some special arrangements allow the recipient to pay the gift tax instead

Lifetime exclusion

Over your lifetime, the IRS keeps a running total of your taxable gifts each year. The IRS does not want individuals to avoid estate taxes on their assets after death by gifting away these assets during their lifetime. From year to year, if you exceed the annual exclusion amount, the excess spills over into the lifetime exclusion category, whittling away at its total. At your time of death, your estate will be exempt from taxation in the amount of your remaining total lifetime gift tax exemption. Thus, amounts in excess of the annual exclusion each year count against both your lifetime gift tax exemption and your federal estate tax exemption.