*With tax season in full swing, I thought it would be a good idea to start posting some tax planning ideas and issues that could be helpful.
Asset Declines = A Planning Opportunity
by Bob Carlson
This year, the annual gift tax exemption has been indexed for inflation and rose to $13,000 as of Jan. 1, 2009. Each person can give up to $13,000 free of gift taxes to any person in 2009. The tax-free gifts can be made to as many people as you want. A married couple can give $26,000 jointly. Today's relatively low asset prices highlight a reason to give assets now instead of later through the estate.
Estate and gift taxes are imposed on the value of property. If a mutual fund has declined in value, you can give more shares tax free than you could have before the decline. For example, Dodge & Cox Stock was valued at $132.63 on Feb. 1, 2008. You could have given 90.47727 shares of the fund to someone tax free using the $12,000 annual exclusion. At the recent price of $67.48 you could give 177.8305 shares if you wanted to give $12,000 worth, or 192.6497 to take advantage of the new $13,000 limit. After the financial crisis and economic decline end, the share prices will recover. The future appreciation above the $67.48 price would be out of your estate and into the hands of your heirs with no estate or gift taxes.
This strategy applies to real estate, small business interests, and other assets that have declined in value over the last year or two. If the steep declines of the last year are temporary, this is a rare opportunity to shift assets out of your estate at a fraction of their real or long-term value.
Before giving an asset, however, determine your tax basis in it. Under gift tax law, your heirs will take a tax basis equal to the lower of your basis and the market value at the time of the gift. If the asset has declined below your basis, it makes sense for you to sell it, deduct the loss on your tax return, and give the cash proceeds from the sale. Or if you are concerned that the heirs will spend a cash gift, buy an investment that is not substantially identical to the one you sold and give that new asset. That generates two tax benefits. You deduct the current loss against your income, and all future appreciation is out of your estate.
The best assets to give are those in which you do not have a paper loss but that are likely to appreciate significantly once the financial and economic situation improves. By giving such assets you are likely to transfer the maximum amount of wealth to future generations at the lowest tax cost.
If you have more tax or estate planning questions, contact me at email@example.com.