Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gifting Strategies for Medical and Education Expenses

     As we touched on in our last blog, many strategies exist for using gifting as part of an estate plan. Today’s blog addresses some of the simpler planning opportunities available through gifting. In future blogs we will focus on the more sophisticated strategies.
     Tuesday’s blog discussed the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion, but it is important to note is that there is another, unlimited Gift Tax exclusion permitted for amounts paid by one individual in two circumstances:
  1. On behalf of another individual directly to a qualifying educational organization as tuition for that other individual.
  2. On behalf of another individual directly to a provider of medical care as payment for that medical care.
     A "qualifying educational organization" is one that normally maintains a regular faculty and curriculum and normally has a regularly enrolled body of pupils or students in attendance at the place where it regularly carries on educational activites. It can be a primary or secondary school, including a vocational high school, college, university, or a normal, technical, mechanical school and similar institutions. . The Internal Revenue Code (the "Code") permits an unlimited exclusion for tuition expenses of full-time or part-time students paid directly to the qualifying educational organization providing the education. The Code does not permit an unlimited exclusion for amounts paid for books, supplies, dormitory fees, board, or other similar expenses that do not constitute direct tuition costs.
     "Qualifying medical expenses" are limited to those expenses defined in Code §213(d), but include expenses incurred for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body or for transportation primarily for and essential to medical care. In addition, the unlimited exclusion from the Gift Tax includes amounts paid for medical insurance on behalf of any individual. The unlimited exclusion from the Gift Tax does not apply to reimbursement for amounts paid for medical care by an individual. 
     While contributions to a qualified tuition program, such as a §529 plan do not qualify for the tuition exclusion above, they do enjoy treatment as a "present gift" that can qualify for the gift tax annual exclusion (currently $14,000 per year). The rules also allow the taxpayer electively to spread the contributions made in a single year over a five-year period. This means that grandparents can make a gift of $70,000 each ($14,000 times 5 years) to a §529 plan for a grandchild, for a total of $140,000 in one year, essentially "frontloading" a grandchild's education and allowing for a greater appreciation of the account. These gifts remove funds from the grandparents' estates, saving estate taxes on their deaths.  
     By using these gifting strategies, individuals can help their loved ones currently and reduce possible future estate taxation. Next week we will start discussing some of the sophisticated strategies used to increase the benefits of lifetime gifting in estate tax planning. 

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