Estate Planning Pitfall: You’re not making direct payments of tuition and medical expenses

Now that the unified gift and estate tax exemption has jumped to $11.18 million in 2018, you may no longer have to worry about gift and estate taxes. On top of that, you can still use the annual gift tax exclusion of $15,000 per recipient in 2018.

In other words, you can give each recipient gifts valued up to $15,000 a year, thereby reducing the size of your
taxable estate. For example, if you have three children and seven grandchildren, you can give each one $15,000, for a total of $150,000. If your spouse joins in the gifts, the tax-free total is doubled to $300,000. And, if you continue this pattern for five years, you’ll have reduced your taxable estate by $1.5 million gift tax free.

But there are no guarantees that estate tax laws won’t be revised in the future or that your accumulated assets won’t eventually exceed the available exemption. Investigate other tax-saving possibilities.

Notably, be aware of this unique tax break: If you pay medical expenses on behalf of someone directly to a healthcare provider or pay tuition expenses of a student directly to the school, those payments are exempt from gift tax above and beyond any amount covered by the annual gift tax exclusion. For example, if you give your granddaughter $15,000 in 2018 and then pay her $35,000 tuition bill at an elite private college, the entire $50,000 is sheltered from gift tax. But remember that the gift must be made directly to the healthcare provider or educational institution. You can’t use your granddaughter as a go-between.