Gifting Tip - Appreciable Assets and Basis

Here are some gift giving tips and strategies if you are planning on making a lifetime gift of property, as opposed to money.  

When you give someone property during your life (like stocks or land), that recipient of the gift gets a "carryover basis" in the property.  For example, if you paid $100 for a share of stock, your "basis" in the stock is $100 - the cost you paid for the stock.  When you make a gift of property, the recipient's basis in the newly acquired property equals your original basis in the property, i.e. $100 in our example.  So, if you give someone your stock and it's now worth $150, that means that the value of the stock has appreciated $50 since you bought it.  If the gift recipient now sells that stock for $150, that means that there is $50 ($150 minus the $100 basis) of realized gain that will be subject to income tax (or capital gains tax) for the gift recipient.

Contrast that example with simply leaving the recipient the stocks through your Will - i.e. at your death.  A beneficiary that receives property at your death gets a "stepped-up basis" in that property.  This means that the beneficiary's new basis in the inherited property is the fair market value of the property at your death.  In our example, this means that the beneficiary could sell the $150 stocks and have no income tax consequences because his stepped-up basis in the stock was $150, so there will be no taxable gain.  

Hopefully, that example made some sense.

So what does this mean for gift giving?  Basically, if you have several assets worth similar amounts that you are considering giving to someone as a gift during your life, you should look at what you originally paid for those assets (the basis).  Depending on your reasons for the gift, you might want to consider giving the asset with the higher basis during your life, and save the lower-basis asset to leave to the beneficiary by Will at your death.  That way, the beneficiary will have little or no income tax consequences.  

On the flip side, if you anticipate an asset appreciating significantly in value, it may make sense to make a lifetime gift of that asset because then the appreciated value will be out of your estate for estate tax purposes.  This tip is particularly useful if a goal of giving the gift is to reduce your taxable estate if your estate is hovering just above Minnesota's $1 million estate tax exemption amount.

Obviously everyone has different assets, goals, and reasons for making gifts.  The strategy you choose will be heavily dependent on your unique circumstances.  This article is just to give you an idea of some ways to get creative with gift giving.  You may want to speak with an estate planning attorney to see what strategy best fits your situation.