How you can give away up to $11 million and save on taxes

  • Under the new tax law, you can give more than $11 million in gifts over your lifetime.
  • Here's how to limit the amount of taxes your heirs may have to pay.
A multi-million dollar home is viewed in the wealthy town of Greenwich
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Even as controversy heats up around the transfer of wealth from the real estate empire of the president's father, Fred Trump, to his children, it's getting much easier to gift millions of dollars — legally — to family.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised the gift and estate tax exemption — also known as the unified credit — to $11.18 million per person in 2018, more than doubling the limit under the old tax law.

This means that any one person could transfer more than $11 million, either in the form of gifts while alive or in bequests after death — and do so without having that amount be subject to the 40 percent gift and estate tax.

The estate tax has been a roller coaster since first imposed in 1917, when 10 percent was levied on portions of an estate exceeding $5 million. At its peak in the 1940s, it charged 77 percent on portions over $10 million, then 70 percent for amounts over $5 million from 1976 to 1982.

Wealthy families should know that while they have the blessing of the IRS to make large gifts for now, the exemption is set to fall back to about $5 million per person at the end of 2025.

And the stakes are high. Over the next 30 to 40 years, $30 trillion in financial and nonfinancial assets is expected to pass from baby boomers — the wealthiest and one-time largest generation in U.S. history — to their heirs.

Of course, estate plans are not just for the rich and famous. Anyone with assets, including a home, 401(k) plan or savings account, should think about how those possessions will be distributed one day.

Aside from gifting, a trust can be a good way to hand money down. It has the added benefit of giving you more control over how your assets are made available to the next generation.

Others may opt to give the bulk of their estate away. In that case, consider setting up a charitable remainder trust, using a donor-advised fund, or simply leaving a portion of your assets to a specified charity in your will.

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