The Federal Gift Tax


The Internal Revenue Code imposes a tax for each calendar year on the transfer of property by gift during such year by any individual, whether a resident or nonresident of the United States. The amount of taxable gifts for a calendar year is determined by subtracting from the total amount of gifts made during the year: (1) the gift tax annual exclusion (described below); and (2) allowable deductions.


Gift tax for the current taxable year is determined by: (1) computing a tentative tax on the combined amount of all taxable gifts for the current and all prior calendar years using the common gift tax and estate tax rate table; (2) computing a tentative tax only on all prior-year gifts; (3) subtracting the tentative tax on prior-year gifts from the tentative tax computed for all years to arrive at the portion of the total tentative tax attributable to current-year gifts; and, finally, (4) subtracting the amount of unified credit not consumed by prior-year gifts.


Transfers by Gift


The gift tax applies to a transfer by gift regardless of whether: (1) the transfer is made outright or in trust; (2) the gift is direct or indirect; or (3) the property is real or personal, tangible or intangible. For gift tax purposes, the value of a gift of property is the fair market value of the property at the time of the gift. Where property is transferred for less than full consideration, the amount by which the value of the property exceeds the value of the consideration is considered a gift and is included in computing the total amount of a taxpayer’s gifts for a calendar year.


For a gift to occur, a donor generally must relinquish dominion and control over donated property. For example, if a taxpayer transfers assets to a trust established for the benefit of his or her children, but retains the right to revoke the trust, the taxpayer has not made a completed gift, because the taxpayer has retained dominion and control over the transferred assets. A completed gift made in trust, on the other hand, is treated as a gift to the trust beneficiaries.


By reason of statute, certain transfers are not treated as transfers by gift for gift tax purposes. These include, for example, certain transfers for educational and medical purposes.


Taxable Gifts


As stated above, the amount of a taxpayer’s taxable gifts for the year is determined by subtracting from the total amount of the taxpayer’s gifts for the year the gift tax annual exclusion and any available deductions.Gift tax annual exclusion: Donors of lifetime gifts are provided an annual exclusion of $15,000 per donee in 2020 (indexed for inflation from the 1997 annual exclusion amount of $10,000) for gifts of present interests in property during the taxable year. If the non-donor spouse consents to split the gift with the donor spouse, then the annual exclusion is $30,000 per donee in 2020. In general, unlimited transfers between spouses are permitted without imposition of a gift tax.


Special rules apply to the contributions to a qualified tuition program (“529 Plan”) including an election to treat a contribution that exceeds the annual exclusion as a contribution made ratably over a five-year period beginning with the year of the contribution.


Marital and charitable deductions: The effect of the marital and charitable deductions generally is to remove assets transferred to a surviving spouse or to charity from the gift tax base.


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