Annual Exclusion

What Is an Annual Exclusion?

An annual exclusion is the amount of money that one person may transfer to another as a gift without incurring a gift tax or affecting the unified credit. This annual gift exclusion can be transferred in the form of cash or other assets. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced the annual exclusion will remain at $15,000 in 2021 (increasing to $16,000 in 2022).

Key Takeaways

  • An annual exclusion amount is how much a person can transfer to another without paying a gift tax.
  • For 2021, the annual exclusion amount is $15,000 (increasing to $16,000 in 2022).
  • The $15,000 annual exclusion means you can give $15,000 each to as many people as you want, not just one individual total.
  • For 2021, the lifetime gift tax exemption is $11.7 million (increasing to $12.06 million in 2022). 

How Annual Exclusions Work

The annual exclusion applies per person, per year. If grandparents gift several thousand dollars to each of their grandchildren, each amount will be considered separately toward its own annual exclusion.

The year resets and restarts on Jan. 1. You could give a single individual $15,000 on Dec. 31, 2021, and $16,000 on Jan. 1, 2022, because this is a new year with a higher exclusion. All gifts made to the same individual count toward the exclusion, so you've gone $1,000 over the 2021 exclusion if you give four separate gifts of $4,000 to your grandchild totaling $16,000 on or before Dec. 31, 2021, when the exclusion is set at $15,000.

While any gift is generally a taxable gift, exceptions do exist. For example, the following gifts are not taxable:

  • Gifts that are less than the year’s annual exclusion
  • Tuition or medical expenses
  • Gifts to a spouse
  • Gifts to a political organization

Gifts to qualifying charities are also deductible from the value of the gift(s) made. Otherwise, taxpayers cannot deduct the value of gifts they make. IRS Publication 559, Survivors, Executors, and Administrators lays out the specifics in this regard.

To be approved for an annual exclusion, taxpayers must submit copies of appraisals, copies of relevant documents regarding the transfer, and any documentation of unusual items shown on the return (such as partially-gifted assets).

Special Considerations

The annual exclusion plays a key role in estate tax exemption and wealth management.

Estate Tax Exemption

The $15,000 annual exclusion means you can give $15,000 to as many people as you want. So you can give each of your five grandchildren $15,000 apiece in a given year, for a total of $135,000. Any gifts you make to a single person over $15,000 count toward your combined estate and gift tax exclusion. This is the amount you are allowed to leave in your estate or give as gifts during your life tax-free.

For 2021, the lifetime gift tax exemption is $11.7 million (increasing to $12.06 million in 2022). This means that if you are married, you and your spouse can give away a total of $23.4 million (increasing to $24.12 million in 2022) before paying the gift tax.

These new exemption thresholds were established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which expires in 2025. The TCJA more than doubled the federal estate and gift tax exemption, which was previously $5 million (adjusted annually for inflation).

Wealth Management

Annual exclusion and estate tax exemption are often considered as part of a larger wealth management plan or estate plan. A high net worth individual (HNW), for example, could enlist the support of a wealth management firm or independent financial advisor to determine how best to allocate financial and other assets via gifts or in a will to avoid heavy tax penalties.

A will is a legal document that provides clear instructions on how an individual’s property and custody of minor children, if any, should be handled after death. In a will, an individual expresses their wishes and names a trustee or executor to fulfill the stated intentions. The will can also indicate whether a trust should be created after death. If a will includes instructions on gifts, this section will determine any tax liabilities for the estate or beneficiaries.

What Is the Annual Exclusion Gift Amount?

The annual exclusion gift amount is $15,000 for 2021. For 2022, the amount will be increased to $16,000. This applies to gift amounts per individual. The lifetime gift tax exemption is $11.7 million for 2021. This will be increased to $12.06 million for 2022.

How Much Can I Inherit Without Paying Taxes?

The IRS has stipulated the estate tax exemption to be $11.7 million for 2021. Any amount inherited below this will not be taxed. For 2022, this amount will be increased to $12.06 million.

What Happens to the Estate Tax Exemption in 2025?

In 2025, the changes made to the estate tax exemption in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will revert back to its previous level of $5 million, adjusted for inflation. This will reduce the current exemption amount for the estate tax, meaning individuals will be able to pass a smaller amount to their beneficiaries before being taxed.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 559, Survivors, Executors, and Administrators."

  4. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "Estate Tax."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Estate and Gift Tax FAQs."

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