Trust and Estate Counsel

Tennessee Estate Planning Law

Insight and commentary on estate planning issues impacting affluent residents of Tennessee

Will the $5 Million Gift Window Close Early?

Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that the Super Committee may propose to reduce the current $5 million gift tax exemption to $1 million, potentially effective as early as November 23, 2011. It seems unlikely to me, but the rumor could be based upon “leaks” from insiders who are familiar with the Super Committee deliberations.

A lot of our clients have already made their $5 million gifts. Others are taking their time and studying their options. A couple of our clients who were studying their options are now mobilizing to complete their gifts prior to November 23, 2011. 

If you are concerned about a potential law change but will not be able to complete your gift by November 23, 2011, there is one technique that you should consider. An inter vivos QTIP trust would allow you to beat the law change, if there is one, yet provide you with the flexibility to unwind the transaction if there is no law change. Assume that Husband makes a $4 million gift to a marital trust that benefits Wife for her lifetime and then continues in trust for the benefit of their children. If the Super Committee does not change the law, and the gift tax exemption remains in place until December 31, 2012, the marital trust will be liquidated and the assets will be distributed to the wife. The couple will then decide how to best use their $5 million gift tax exemption. If this course is followed, Husband will need to file Tennessee and federal gift tax returns on April 15, 2012 (or October 15, 2012 with an extension), and make QTIP elections on both returns.

Alternatively, if the $5 million gift tax exemption is eliminated as of November 23, 2011, the QTIP trust will stay in place and the husband’s federal gift tax return for 2011 will not make a QTIP election.   The Tennessee gift tax return for 2011 will still make a QTIP election in order to avoid paying Tennessee gift taxes for 2011.

The QTIP plan will allow the husband to utilize his gift tax exemption but does not allow the wife to utilize her exemption. If the wife establishes a similar $4 million trust for the husband, there is a danger that the reciprocal trust doctrine will eliminate all of the proposed benefits from the transaction. In theory, the separate trusts for the husband and the wife can have different provisions that will avoid the application of the reciprocal trust doctrine. However, it is my opinion that there is still some risk if they each establish trusts that benefit the other, especially since the two trusts will be created very near in time to each other. Accordingly, I do not recommend the establishment of QTIP trusts by both spouses.

I am very skeptical about Congress closing the gift tax window as of November 23, 2011. Nevertheless, you might as well consider acting before that date if you are committed to making a gift anyway. An inter vivos QTIP trust is one method for hedging your bets.