The annual gift tax exclusion allows a person to transfer up to $15,000 per beneficiary gift-tax-free. One can double the exclusion to $30,000 per beneficiary if an election is made to split the gifts with a spouse. This brief article explains why it’s important to understand the rules surrounding gift-splitting to avoid unintended — and potentially costly — consequences.
Estate Planning Red Flag
You’re splitting gifts with your spouse
The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to transfer up to $15,000 per beneficiary gift-tax-free, without tapping your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. And you can double the exclusion to $30,000 per beneficiary if you elect to split the gifts with your spouse.
It’s important to understand the rules surrounding gift-splitting to avoid unintended — and potentially costly — consequences. Common mistakes include:
Failing to make the election. To elect to split gifts, the donor must file a gift tax return and the nondonor must consent by checking a box on the return and signing it or, if a gift exceeds $30,000, filing his or her own gift tax return. Once you make the election, you must split all gifts to third parties for the year.
Splitting gifts with a noncitizen. To be eligible for gift-splitting, one spouse must be a U.S. citizen.
Divorcing and remarrying. To split gifts, you must be married at the time of the gift. You’re ineligible for gift-splitting if you divorce and either spouse remarries during the calendar year in which the gift was made.
Gifting a future interest. Gift-splitting can be used only for present interests. So, a gift in trust qualifies only if the beneficiary receives a present interest — for example, by providing the beneficiary with so-called Crummey withdrawal rights.
Benefiting your spouse. Gift-splitting is ineffective if you make the gift to your spouse, rather than a third party; if you give your spouse a general power of appointment over the gifted property; or if your spouse is a potential beneficiary of the gift. For example, if you make a gift to a trust of which your spouse is a beneficiary, gift-splitting is prohibited unless the chances your spouse will benefit are extremely remote.
Be aware that, if you die within three years of splitting a gift, some of the tax benefits may be lost.