Posts Tagged ‘estate lawyer’

Gifting Stock: Use a Formula, Not a Savings Clause

Thursday, August 9, 2012 @ 02:08 PM
Author: Peter Brehm

Small business owners often struggle finding ways to transfer the value of what they have built to their children and grandchildren.  The current tax law permits a parent to gift $13,000 to each child without paying gift tax.  So, for example, a husband and wife with 4 children could gift $26,000 in stock every year to each child ($104,000 per year) without paying tax.   As most small business owners know, however, establishing the value of small business stock is not easy to do, and if the IRS decides that the amount of stock you gave exceeds the annual exclusion amount, there is the potential for a rather punitive gift tax.

Many practitioners have tried to remedy this situation by adding a ‘savings clause’ to the gift that says: we are gifting X number of shares to each child with the expectation that the value of the shares does not exceed the gift tax exclusion amount, and if the IRS finds that  X number of shares exceeds the gift tax exclusion amount, we take back enough of the gift so that no tax is owed.  The IRS, and most court have rejected this approach.

However, the Tax Court has held that a gift of stock based upon a formula, where the gift is for a set dollar amount (not a specific number of shares) the taxpayer can effectively create a gift that will never exceed the exclusion amount.  In Wandry v. Commissioner, the court held that “[a] savings clause is void because it creates a donor that tries ‘to take property back’.  On the other hand, a ‘formula clause’ is valid because it merely transfers a ‘fixed set of rights with uncertain value’.  The difference depends on an understanding of just what the donor is trying to give away.”

For the small business owner the solution is clear: when planning around the gift tax exclusion, you should use a formula based gift, not a savings clause.

Peter Brehm is a small business and estate lawyer practicing in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Scottsdale, Arizona.

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