Determining whether you need to file gift tax returns can be tricky

gift tax returns

For 2020, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption has reached a whopping $11.58 million ($23.16 million for married couples). As a result, few people will be subject to federal gift taxes.

If your wealth is well within the exemption amount, does that mean there’s no need to file gift tax returns? Not necessarily. There are many situations in which it’s necessary (or desirable) to file Form 709 — “United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return” — even if you’re not liable for any gift taxes.

If you’re required to file, keep in mind that the deadline for Form 709 is April 15 of the year after you make a gift.

All gifts are taxable, except . . .

The federal gift tax regime begins with the assumption that all transfers of property by gift (including below-market sales or loans) are taxable, and then sets forth several exceptions. Some of the nontaxable transfers that need not be reported on Form 709 include:

  • Gifts of present interests (see below) within the annual exclusion amount (currently, $15,000 per donee),
  • Deductible charitable gifts, and
  • Gifts to one’s U.S.-citizen spouse, either outright or to a trust that meets certain requirements.

If all your gifts for the year fall into these categories, no gift tax return is required. But other types of gifts may be taxable — and must be reported on Form 709 — even if they’re shielded from tax by the lifetime exemption.

Traps to avoid

If you make gifts during the year, consider whether you’re required to file Form 709. And watch out for these common traps:

Future interests.

The $15,000 annual exclusion applies only to present interests, such as outright gifts. Gifts of future interests, such as transfers to a trust for a donee’s benefit, aren’t covered, so you’re required to report them on Form 709 even if they’re less than $15,000.

Spousal gifts.

As previously noted, gifts to a U.S.-citizen spouse need not be reported on Form 709. However, if you make a gift to a trust for your spouse’s benefit, the trust must 1) provide that your spouse is entitled to all the trust’s income for life, payable at least annually, 2) give your spouse a general power of appointment over its assets, and 3) not be subject to any other person’s power of appointment. Otherwise, the gift must be reported.

Gift splitting.

Spouses may elect to split a gift to a child or other donee, so that each spouse is deemed to have made one-half of the gift, even if one spouse wrote the check. This allows married couples to combine their annual exclusions and give up to $30,000 to each donee. To make the election, the donor spouse must file Form 709, and the other spouse must sign a consent or, in some cases, file a separate gift tax return.

To file or not to file

To keep from running afoul of the IRS, it’s critical to know when you need to file a gift tax return. We can help you in that determination.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

Charitable lead trusts offer philanthropic and family benefits

Charitable lead trusts

Affluent families who wish to give to charity while minimizing gift and estate taxes should consider a charitable lead trust (CLT). These trusts are most effective in a low-interest-rate environment, so conditions for taking advantage of a CLT currently are favorable. Although interest rates have crept up a bit in recent years, they remain quite low.

CLTs come in two flavors

A CLT provides a regular income stream to one or more charities during the trust term, after which the remaining assets pass to your children or other noncharitable beneficiaries.

There are two types of CLTs: 1) a charitable lead annuity trust (CLAT), which makes annual payments to charity equal to a fixed dollar amount or a fixed percentage of the trust assets’ initial value, and 2) a charitable lead unitrust (CLUT), which pays out a set percentage of the trust assets’ value, recalculated annually. Most people prefer CLATs because they provide a better opportunity to maximize the amount received by the noncharitable beneficiaries.

Typically, people establish CLATs during their lives because it allows them to lock in a favorable interest rate. Another option is a testamentary CLAT, or “T-CLAT,” which is established at death by your will or living trust.

Interest matters

Why are CLATs so effective when interest rates are low? When you fund a CLAT, you make a taxable gift equal to the initial value of the assets you contribute to the trust, less the value of all charitable interests. A charity’s interest is equal to the total payments it will receive over the trust term, discounted to present value using the Section 7520 rate, a conservative interest rate set monthly by the IRS. As of this writing, the Sec. 7520 rate has fluctuated between 2.8% and 3.4% this year.

If trust assets outperform the applicable Sec. 7520 rate (that is, the rate published in the month the trust is established), the trust will produce wealth transfer benefits. For example, if the applicable Sec. 7520 rate is 2.5% and the trust assets actually grow at a 7% rate, your noncharitable beneficiaries will receive assets well in excess of the taxable gift you report when the trust is established.

Act now

If a CLAT appeals to you, the sooner you act, the better. In a low-interest-rate environment, outperforming the Sec. 7520 rate is relatively easy, so the prospects of transferring a significant amount of wealth tax-free are good. Contact us with questions.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.

A charitable remainder trust can provide a multitude of benefits

Charitable Remainder Trust

If you’re charitably inclined but concerned about having sufficient income to meet your needs, a charitable remainder trust (CRT) may be the answer. A CRT allows you to support a favorite charity while potentially boosting your cash flow, shrinking the size of your taxable estate, reducing or deferring income taxes, and enjoying investment planning advantages.

How does a CRT work?

You contribute stock or other assets to an irrevocable trust that provides you — and, if you desire, your spouse — with an income stream for life or for a term of up to 20 years. (You can name a noncharitable beneficiary other than yourself or your spouse, but there may be gift tax implications.) At the end of the trust term, the remaining trust assets are distributed to one or more charities you’ve selected.

When you fund the trust, you can claim a charitable income tax deduction equal to the present value of the remainder interest (subject to applicable limits on charitable deductions). Your annual payouts from the trust can be based on a fixed percentage of the trust’s initial value — known as a charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT). Or they can be based on a fixed percentage of the trust’s value recalculated annually — known as a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT).

Generally, CRUTs are preferable for two reasons. First, the annual revaluation of the trust assets allows payouts to increase if the trust assets grow, which can allow your income stream to keep up with inflation. Second, you can make additional contributions to CRUTs, but not to CRATs.

The fixed percentage — called the unitrust amount — can range from 5% to 50%. A higher rate increases the income stream, but it also reduces the value of the remainder interest and, therefore, the charitable deduction. Also, to pass muster with the IRS, the present value of the remainder interest must be at least 10% of the initial value of the trust assets.

The determination of whether the remainder interest meets the 10% requirement is made at the time the assets are transferred — it’s an actuarial calculation based on the trust’s terms. If the ultimate distribution to charity is less than 10% of the amount transferred, there’s no adverse tax impact related to the contribution.

Handle with care

If the estate tax is repealed as part of tax reform as has been proposed, CRTs would become less beneficial from an estate tax perspective. But they could still help the charitably inclined achieve their goals. CRTs require careful planning and solid investment guidance to ensure that they meet your needs. Before taking action, discuss your options with us.

About the author

Brady is the owner of Ramsay & Associates. He specializes in financial statement preparation and personal, fiduciary and corporate tax and accounting.

His professional experience includes seven years' experience for local and national CPA firms before joining Ramsay & Associates in 2006.

He has a Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is a Certified Public Accountant, a member of the Minnesota Society of CPA's, an Eagle Scout, as well as an active volunteer in the community.