Exemptions from the federal estate, gift and generation-skipping tax are due to change after Dec. 31, 2012.

At the moment, the exemption is $5.12 million. Unless the current law changes, the exemption will be $1 million on January 1, 2013. That means that a couple acting by Dec. 31 could give away up to $10.24 million without paying any transfer tax (subject to state gift tax, if any).

It should be noted that the use of these exemptions in 2012 should not disadvantage donors, or their estates, in the future, even if the exemptions drop to $1 million, unless Congress and the president make changes to the regulations.

Those who wish to make gifts but retain income from, or access to, the principal related to any gifts made by Dec. 31, may be able to do so in appropriate situations.

As gift planning often involves trusts that take time to structure and complete, those in a position to make them before Dec. 31 should act promptly.