Do You Need to File Gift Tax Returns?
For 2019, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption has reached a whopping $11.40 million ($22.80 million for married couples). As a result, few people will be subject to federal gift taxes. If your wealth is well within the exemption amount, does that mean there’s no need to file gift tax returns? Not necessarily. There are many situations in which it’s necessary (or desirable) to file Form 709, “United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return” — even if you’re not liable for any gift taxes.
The federal gift tax regime begins with the assumption that all transfers of property by gift (including below-market sales or loans) are taxable, and then sets forth several exceptions. Nontaxable transfers that need not be reported on Form 709 include:
- Gifts of present interests (as opposed to future interests; see below) within the gift tax annual exclusion amount ($15,000 per recipient in 2019),
- Direct payments of qualifying medical or educational expenses on behalf of an individual (see “Medical and educational expenses: Direct payments only”),
- Gifts to political organizations and certain tax-exempt organizations,
- Deductible charitable gifts, and
- Gifts to your U.S.-citizen spouse, either outright or to a trust that meets certain requirements, or gifts to your noncitizen spouse within a special annual exclusion amount ($155,000 for 2019).
If all your gifts for the year fall into these categories, no gift tax return is required. But gifts that don’t meet these requirements are generally considered taxable — and must be reported on Form 709 — even if they’re shielded from tax by the lifetime exemption.
Traps to avoid
If you make gifts during the year, consider whether you’re required to file Form 709. And watch out for these common traps:
Consider filing voluntarily
It may be a good idea to file a gift tax return even if it’s not required. For example, if you make annual exclusion gifts of difficult-to-value assets, such as interests in a closely held business, a gift tax return that meets “adequate disclosure” requirements will trigger the three-year limitations period for audits.
Suppose you transfer business interests valued at $10 million over a period of years, through a combination of tax-free gifts to your spouse and annual exclusion gifts to your children. If the IRS finds that the interests were worth $15 million, which exceeds the lifetime exemption amount, it can assess gift taxes plus penalties and interest. If you don’t file regular gift tax returns, the IRS has unlimited time to challenge the values of your gifts.
Stay on the right side of the IRS
A smart gifting strategy continues to offer significant benefits for you and your loved ones. However, to keep from running afoul of the IRS, it’s critical to know when you need to file a gift tax return. We can help you in that determination.