If you transfer money or property to anyone in any year without receiving something of at least equal value in return, you may need to file a federal gift tax return (Form 709) by the April tax filing deadline. If you live in one of the few states that also impose a gift tax, you may need to file a separate gift tax return with your state as well.
Not all gifts, however, are treated the same. Some gifts aren’t taxable and generally don’t require a gift tax return. These exceptions include:
- Gifts to your spouse that qualify for the marital deduction
- Gifts to charities that qualify for the charitable deduction (Filing is not required as long as you transfer your entire interest in the property to qualifying charities. However, if you are required to file a return to report gifts to noncharitable beneficiaries, all charitable gifts must be reported as well.)
- Qualified amounts paid on someone else’s behalf directly to an educational institution for tuition or to a provider for medical care
- Annual exclusion gifts totaling $14,000 or less for the year to any one individual (However, you must file a return to split gifts with your spouse if you want all gifts made by either spouse during the year treated as made one-half by each spouse — enabling you and your spouse to effectively use each other’s annual exclusion.)
If your gift isn’t exempt from taxation, you’ll need to file a gift tax return. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay gift tax. Generally, each taxpayer is allowed to make taxable gifts totaling $5,490,000 (in 2017, up from $5,450,000 in 2016) over his or her lifetime before paying any gift tax. Filing the gift tax return helps the IRS keep a running tab on the taxable gifts you have made and the amount of the lifetime exclusion you have used.
If you made a gift of property that’s hard to value (e.g., real estate), you may want to report the gift, even if you’re not required to do so, in order to establish the gift’s taxable value. If you do, the IRS generally has only three years to challenge the gift’s value. If you don’t report the gift, the IRS can dispute the value of your gift at any time in the future.
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