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Estate & Gift Tax Planning

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The Estate-Tax Exemption

For 2011 and 2012 you can leave bequests (gifts to other individuals upon your death) worth up to $5 million free of any federal estate tax ($5.12 million for 2012). This is the so-called estate-tax exemption. If you're married, both you and your spouse are entitled to separate $5 million (or $5.12 million) exemptions. If one spouse dies and does not use up his or her full exemption, the leftover exemption amount can be left to the surviving spouse.

The Gift-Tax Exemption

You can also give away a cumulative total of up to $5 million to relatives, friends, whomever during your life without owing any federal gift tax or $5.12 million for 2012. This is the so-called gift-tax exemption. If you're married, both you and your spouse are entitled to separate $5 million (or $5.12 million) gift-tax exemptions.

Gifts made under the so-called $13,000 tax-free-gift rule (more on that below) will not trigger any federal gift taxes, nor will they reduce your federal gift-tax or estate-tax exemptions. However, gifts in excess of the $13,000 "freebie" will reduce both exemptions dollar for dollar. Only if you're so generous during your lifetime that you completely burn through your $5 million (or $5.12 million) gift-tax exemption will you have to start paying federal gift tax. Even then, the tax only hits gifts in excess of the $13,000 figure.

Bottom line: Relatively few people will ever reach the point of actually owing any federal gift tax.

The $13,000 Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

For those with large estates, the $5 million (or $5.12 million) estate-tax exemption isn't enough. That's where the $13,000 tax-free gift rule comes in.

The benefit of making tax-free gifts is twofold: It reduces your taxable estate, and it shifts the taxable income from the gifted money to your kids, who may be taxed at a lower rate than you. This $13,000-a-year strategy works particularly well for those who wait until late in life to start serious estate planning.

Let's say, for instance, you and your spouse have an estate worth about $12 million and you've built in almost no protection against the IRS. If you both die tomorrow, the federal estate tax could be $700,000. Say you have two adult children (both married) and four grandchildren, you and your spouse could together give away $208,000 a year ($13,000 from each of you to both children, their spouses and four grandkids) and cut that tax bill significantly in just a few years by reducing your estate with gifts. (Gifts under the $13,000 rule don't cut into your $5 million (or $5.12 million) gift-tax or estate-tax exemptions.)

To Gift or Not To Gift


  • Reduced Valuation in 2012
  • Estate Freeze- assets will grow under kid's ownership
  • Savings from 3.8% taxes
  • Income tax benefit
  • Asset protection


  • Give up some control
  • Laws may change- $5 million may become permanent
  • Estate taxes may be repealed in future
  • Administrative cost
  • Carry over basis vs. step up basis


Life expectancy, Future laws, valuation of assets

Historical and Future Federal Gift Tax Exemptions and Rates


Gift Tax Exemption

Top Gift Tax Rate




















































A little planning can save thousands of dollars!

Most people don't like to think about death, much less plan for it. And since there is no legal requirement to do estate planning, many of us put it off. Yet the truth is that investing a little time in estate planning can pay off in lower taxes and administrative costs, increased financial security for your loved ones, and best of all, your own peace of mind.

Estate planning is not just a task for the wealthy. Tax implications kick in depending on the value of your estate and the federal and state laws in effect at the time of your death.

The value of your home, your personal property, your business interests, your collectibles, your investments, including your retirement accounts, and possibly your life insurance can all enter into the estate equation. It doesn't take much any more to find yourself in the taxable estate category.

Use our estate planning calculator to help you determine what your estate is worth.

Basic estate planning documents allow you to control the fundamental financial and personal decisions of your life and death. Here's a list of the essential documents that even the simplest estate plan should include.

Essential documents

  • The will. Where there's a will, there's a way — a way to honor your wishes. How, when, and to whom will your property go? Who will be the guardians of your minor children? Without a will, these decisions will be made by strangers in a court system using rules that could be contrary to your intentions. Keep in mind that a will controls only the distribution of your probate estate. It does not control assets held in trust, certain joint assets, retirement accounts, or life insurance policies on which you name beneficiaries.
  • Information memo. Keep a list of your insurance policies, bank accounts, investment and retirement accounts, businesses you own, outstanding debt, credit cards, tax-related documents, income sources, and other financial information. In addition, include the names and phone numbers of your accountant, lawyer, doctor, and insurance agent.
  • Durable power of attorney. This critical document enables someone you choose to conduct your financial affairs if you become incapacitated.
  • Directive to physicians. A directive to physicians (also called a living will, health care directive, or some similar name) documents the medical treatment you wish if you become incapacitated. It lets you name the individual(s) you wish to make your medical decisions if circumstances keep you from making them yourself.
  • Funeral instructions. Include your burial wishes and a list of relatives, friends, and business associates to be notified upon your death.

Keep your original documents in a fireproof safe or with your attorney. Put your list of documents and the copies in a binder at home, and tell your personal representative (executor) where the binder is located.

Keep your plan current

Estate planning is an ongoing project. Review your plan and documents on a regular basis to ensure that they are up to date for current tax law and your personal situation.

Some gift tax planning possibilities:

  • Annual gifts
    Current tax law allows you to give away a certain amount each year to as many recipients as you choose with no gift tax consequences. Your spouse may join in this annual gifting even if he or she is not an owner in the transferred asset. This means that you could transfer double the exempt amount each year to each of your heirs. To double the annual exclusion yet again, you may want to include spouses of your children. The person receiving the gift does not need to be related to you. These annual gifts do not reduce your estate tax exclusion.
  • Unlimited gifts
    You can make unlimited gifts to pay for another individual's medical expenses or school tuition as long as your payments are made directly to the institution.
  • Property transfer
    If you have property which is not needed for your retirement, maybe it is a candidate for transferring during your lifetime. If it is a large income-producer, the future income will be taxed to the new owner and not to you, plus the property will be out of your estate.
  • Spousal transfer
    You can make unlimited transfers to your spouse either during your lifetime or through your estate. There are no taxes on spousal transfers, regardless of size.
  • Life insurance proceeds
    With proper planning, certain life insurance proceeds can be kept out of your estate.

If you'd like details about estate planning or assistance in developing or reviewing your estate plan, please contact our office. We're here to help.

Arjunani, PLLC 
Tax Professionals and Business Advisors
3050 Post Oak Blvd., Suite 1350
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 552-9499
Fax: (713) 552-0810

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