After December 1, 2025, the federal estate tax exemption will fall back to $5 million (indexed for inflation) from the current $12 million level. Now is the time to use available estate planning strategies and ensure that your plan factors in changes in tax law, advises a recent article titled “Are Clients’ Current Estate Plans Soundproof for the Future?” from Financial Advisor.
For many families, structured and leveraged gifting is one of the most useful wealth transfer vehicles. A parent could use their GST and gift tax exemptions to make gifts to children, grandchildren and other family members before this tax law changes.
Here’s an example, using a high-net-worth family. Bill and Sue are married, so they can make combined lifetime gifts of $24,120,000. They own a family business worth $10 million in equal shares. They transfer 20% of the business to their children. This is a minority stake, meaning the minority owners have no right to make relevant business decisions and vote on important issues. As a result, the minority stake is discounted and worth $1.3 million instead of $2 million for gift and estate tax purposes and Bill and Sue retain $700,000 more of their allotted exemption.
For lifetime transfers, the valuation date is the date of the gifting, but for transfers at death, the valuation date is the date of death. By using this valuation discount while they are living, Bill and Sue have reduced the value of their company for estate tax purposes, giving their children a percentage of the company in a manner costing less in terms of transfer tax.
By making these gifts in 2023, Bill and Sue have removed $24,120,000 from their estate tax free. They have also removed the appreciation on the assets gifted away from their estate. However—if the gift is not made and the federal estate tax exemption reduces to $6 million per person before their deaths in 2040, then when the second spouse dies, heirs or beneficiaries will receive significantly less than what they would have received if the gift was made prior to the reduction of the federal exemption.
There was concern about tax outcomes if the taxpayer makes gifts now and the exemptions are reduced sooner. However, the IRS Treasury Decision 9884 confirms there will be no claw backs under these circumstances.
If the parents are concerned about making outright gifts to chosen beneficiaries who are too young, immature, or vulnerable to creditors, other strategies can be used to allow them to maintain control, while protecting assets and locking in these estate and gift tax advantages. The grantor can execute a plan ensuring that the donor receives an income from the transferred asset and/or maintaining access to principal.
Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn what strategies are available now to prevent overly burdensome estate taxes in the future. After all, 2025 is not as far away as it seems.