The Joys and Sorrows of Gift-Giving During Your Lifetime

“You can’t take it with you.”

These are good words to keep in mind as we go through life, they remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, not to hold onto things we don’t need, and to be generous to those less fortunate than ourselves. Whether you’re thinking about estate planning or gift planning, however, there are a few other words to keep in mind: How much should I give away?

Fortunately, this article in Smart Money—and the advice of an experienced estate planner—can help you answer the questions of how much to give away, when to give it away, and to whom.

The article wisely counsels that two of the most important things to remember when considering your gift-giving questions are the estate tax exemption and the gift tax exemption. The estate tax exemption is the amount you can leave, tax free, to heirs upon your death. “For 2011 and 2012 you can leave bequests worth up to $5 million free of any federal estate tax ($5.12 million for 2012)… If you’re married, both you and your spouse are entitled to separate $5 million (or $5.12 million) exemptions.” This is something that should be planned for and taken advantage of in your estate plan.

The gift tax exemption is the amount you can give away during your lifetime. “You can give away a cumulative total of up to $5 million to relatives, friends, whomever during your life without owing any federal gift tax or $5.12 million for 2012… If you’re married, both you and your spouse are entitled to separate $5 million (or $5.12 million) gift-tax exemptions.”

There is also an annual gift tax exclusion amount of up to $13,000. “[Annual] gifts made under the so-called $13,000 tax-free-gift rule will not trigger any federal gift taxes, nor will they reduce your federal gift-tax or estate-tax exemptions.” However, as the article points out, any gifts made in excess of this $13,000 amount in any given year will begin to cut into your estate tax exemption or your gift tax exemption. So if you plan on making any large financial gifts this year you would be wise to contact your estate planning attorney first for advice.

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