In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
— Benjamin Franklin
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.
— Will Rogers
It actually will take an act of Congress – well, to keep the lifetime gift-tax exclusion at its current rate, that is. For the past two years the lifetime gift-tax exclusion has been at a historically elevated rate: $5 million in 2011 and $5.12 million in 2012.
It was a complete surprise when Congress voted to raise the limit at the end of 2010, which had been at just $1 million, prompting some folks to refer to the new provision as a “Christmas miracle.”
But that miracle is due to expire December 31, when the exclusion is scheduled to revert back to $1 million. And if you own or work for a family business, you need to pay attention to that deadline.
We have just entered the fourth quarter of 2012 and unlike the decision of where to hold your annual spring retreat, or whether Uncle Bob can get his office redecorated, this one can’t wait.
If an older generation has ownership in the family business, this is the time to consider gifting all or a portion of that ownership in the company to the younger generation to benefit from the $5.12 million exclusion
If a married couple have ownership, the exclusion doubles. So if dear old grandma and grandpa or mom and dad own the business, they can potentially save the company millions by exercising all or part of a lifetime gift tax exclusion of $10.24 million before December 31.
John Glass has owned a refrigeration and air conditioning distributor in Aurora, Illinois for 40 years. Last year, he gifted $2 million of company stock to his three daughters, and he and his wife are considering gifting more this year, according to an article on www.bloomberg.com. His company stands to save millions in taxes from that gift.
Taking advantage of the current lifetime gift can substantially reduce a family’s tax burden and will also reduce potential estate taxes in the future.
Another factor is that the percentage of tax due on amounts exceeding the limits of the gift tax rate will increase from the current 35% to a whopping 55% at the end of the year.
If your family hasn’t discussed who will take over the business in the future and how the transfer will occur, now is the time for that discussion. It could save the business millions of dollars as well as the headaches and hassles involved if there is no current succession plan in place. The greatest threat to a family business is the failure to plan and manage succession well (more on that topic later).
The issue of giving up control can be a big one, and is often the reason families haven’t had the discussion about succession. There are ways that a donor can maintain control even after gifting part or all of the interest in a company.
There are several ways to make use of the lifetime gift tax exemption in the last three months of 2012. However, these are complicated issues, and you need to contact your estate and trust attorneys immediately. You want to ensure that the right decisions are made for future of the business and for the family.
No one knows what Congress will do, whether it may extend the lifetime gift-tax exclusion or not. Make sure you are prepared for whatever happens for 2013.
Time is running out. Do you really want to count on Congress for another miracle? Didn’t think so.
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