Dear Liz: I’m an estate-planning attorney and want to expand on the answer you gave to the parent who wanted to give her children money for their educations or a car but was worried about gift taxes.
Your explanation of the federal rule was accurate — only gifts of more than $13,000 per recipient have to be reported, and gift tax isn’t owed until amounts over that exclusion exceed $1 million — but state laws vary. (California levies no gift tax.) In addition, the $13,000-per-person annual exclusion and the $1-million lifetime exclusion is available for each giver, so a married couple could give $26,000 without reducing their lifetime exemptions.
Also, tuition is not considered a gift if paid directly to the school, irrespective of the amount, so the giver could offer to pay tuition directly and then give money separately for a car. Finally, 529 college savings plans are an excellent way to save for a child’s higher education and are often preferable to giving money directly to the children.
Answer: Thanks for the additional information. College savings plans allow people to contribute up to five times the annual gift exclusion amount at one time, meaning generous parents or grandparents could stow $65,000 into a 529 plan in one lump sum (as long as they make no other gifts to the recipient in that five-year period).