Gift tax. Gifts you make during your lifetime may be subject to federal gift tax. Not all gifts are subject to the tax, however. You can make annual tax-free gifts of up to $15,000 per recipient. Married couples can effectively make annual tax-free gifts of up to $30,000 per recipient. You can also make unlimited tax-free gifts for qualifying expenses paid directly to educational or medical service providers. And you can make deductible transfers to your spouse and to charity. There is a basic exclusion amount that protects a total of up to $11.18 million (in 2018) from gift tax and estate tax. Transfers in excess of the basic exclusion amount are generally taxed at 40%.
Estate tax. Property you own at death is subject to federal estate tax. As with the gift tax, you can make deductible transfers to your spouse and to charity; there is a basic exclusion amount that protects up to $11.18 million (in 2018) from tax, and a tax rate of 40% generally applies to transfers in excess of the basic exclusion amount.
Portability. The estate of a deceased spouse can elect to transfer any unused applicable exclusion amount to his or her surviving spouse (a concept referred to as portability). The surviving spouse can use the unused exclusion of the deceased spouse, along with the surviving spouse's own basic exclusion amount, for federal gift and estate tax purposes. For example, if a spouse died in 2011 and the estate elected to transfer $5 million of the unused exclusion to the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse effectively has an applicable exclusion amount of $16.18 million ($5 million plus $11.18 million) to shelter transfers from federal gift or estate tax in 2018.
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