Exploit the Gift Tax Annual Exclusion Amount

In 2016, the gift tax annual exclusion amount per donee will remain $14,000 for gifts made by an individual and $28,000 for gifts made by a married couple who agree to "split" their gifts. If you have not already done so, now is the time to take advantage of your remaining 2015 gift tax exclusion amount so that you can ensure that gifts are "completed" before December 31, 2015.

In lieu of cash gifts, consider gifting securities or interests in privately held companies or other family-owned entities. The assets that you give away now may be worth significantly less than they once were, and their value hopefully will increase in the future. So the $28,000 gift that your spouse and you make today may have a built-in discount that the Internal Revenue Service cannot reasonably question. That discount will inure to the benefit of your beneficiaries if the value of those assets rises.

Your annual exclusion gifts may be made directly to your beneficiaries or to trusts that you establish for their benefit. It is important to note, however, that gifts to trusts will not qualify for the gift tax annual exclusion unless the beneficiaries have certain limited rights to the gifted assets (commonly known as "Crummey" withdrawal powers). If you have created a trust that contains beneficiary withdrawal powers, it is essential that your Trustees send Crummey letters to the beneficiaries whenever you (or anyone else) make a trust contribution. For a more detailed explanation of Crummey withdrawal powers, please see the September 2012 issue of Personal Planning Strategies, available on our website.

If you have created an insurance trust, remember that any amounts contributed to the trust to pay insurance premiums are considered additions to the trust. As a result, the Trustees should send Crummey letters to the beneficiaries to notify them of their withdrawal rights over these contributions. Without these letters, transfers to the trust will not qualify for the gift tax annual exclusion.

2015 Gift Tax Returns

Gift tax returns for gifts that you made in 2015 are due on April 15, 2016. You can extend the due date to October 15, 2016 on a timely filed request for an automatic extension of time to file your 2015 income tax return, which also extends the time to file your gift tax return. If you created a trust in 2015, you should direct your accountant to elect to have your generation-skipping transfer ("GST") tax exemption either allocated or not allocated, as the case may be, to contributions to that trust. It is critical that you not overlook that step, which must be taken even if your gifts do not exceed the annual gift tax exclusion and would, therefore, not otherwise require the filing of a gift tax return. You should call one of our attorneys if you have any questions about your GST tax exemption allocation.

Make Sure that You Take Your IRA Required Minimum Distributions by December 31, 2015

If you are the owner of a traditional IRA, you must begin to receive required minimum distributions ("RMDs") from your IRA and, subject to narrow exceptions, other retirement plans, by April 1 of the year after you turn 70 ½. You must receive those distributions by December 31 of each year. If you are the current beneficiary of an inherited IRA, you must take RMDs by December 31 of each year regardless of your age. The RMDs must be separately calculated for each retirement account that you own, and you, not the financial institution at which your account is held, are ultimately responsible for making the correct calculations. The penalty for not withdrawing your RMD by December 31 of each year is an additional 50% tax on the amount that should have been withdrawn. Please consult us if you need assistance with your RMDs.