The tax code places limits on the amounts that individuals can gift to others (as money or property) without paying taxes. This is meant to keep individuals from using gifts to avoid the estate tax that is imposed upon inherited assets. This can be a significant issue for family-operated businesses when the business owner dies; such businesses often have to be sold to pay the resulting inheritance (estate) taxes. This is, in large part, why high-net-worth individuals invest in estate planning.
Exemptions – Current tax law provides both an annual gift-tax exemption and a lifetime unified exemption for the gift and estate taxes. Because the lifetime exemption is unified, gifts that exceed the annual gift-tax exemption reduce the amount that the giver can later exclude for estate-tax purposes.
Annual Gift-Tax Exemption – This inflation-adjusted exemption is $15,000 for 2018 and 2019 (up from $14,000 for 2013–2017). Thus, an individual can give $15,000 each to an unlimited number of other individuals (not necessarily relatives) without any tax ramifications. When a gift exceeds the $15,000 limit, the individual must file a Form 709 Gift Tax Return. However, unlimited amounts may be transferred between spouses without the need to file such a return – unless the spouse is not a U.S. citizen. Gifts to noncitizen spouses are eligible for an annual gift-tax exclusion of up to $155,000 in 2019 (up from $152,000 in 2018).