What to know about giving money

Take taxes, trusts, and legal factors into account in your giving.

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Key takeaways

  • Know the pros and cons. Gifting can help reduce the size of your taxable estate, but it can have potential tax implications and loss of control over gifted assets.
  • Consider setting up a trust, such as an irrevocable trust, when gifting to minor children, as trusts allow for more control of the assets, even after your death.
  • If you want your children to continue to carry out your philanthropic wishes to give money to deserving charities, consider a donor-advised fund.

Giving to a loved one or charity can be one of life's greatest joys. But when it comes to gifting, there are some key issues, including potential tax implications, that you'll want to keep in mind in order to make the most of your gift.

Because gifting is irrevocable, it's important to ask yourself: How does gifting fit into my overall financial picture and financial health? Does it make sense to give up this money? Could it cause financial struggles or issues in the future?

Understand the basics of what you can give

In 2019, each person may gift up to $15,000 each year to any individual. Any amount beyond that will involve using part of your lifetime federal gift tax exclusion, which is $11.4 million per person for 2019. A married couple could therefore give $30,000 to each of their children and grandchildren and anyone else each year without beginning to use that exclusion. If you do exceed the annual exclusion amount, you'll need to file a gift tax return and track the amounts given each year.

Tip: For greater detail on income tax deductions and income-based charitable giving limits for charitable contributions by individuals, read IRS Publication 526 .

Consider the potential impact of capital gains taxes

Next, think of the income and capital gains tax consequences for the beneficiary of the gift. Not all gifts are treated equally. If you gift cash, generally there are no income tax consequences for the recipient, although there could be gift and estate tax implications to the donor. But if you give appreciated securities, the capital gains taxes can be significant. Also, note that the tax treatment varies widely depending on the recipient.

Consider a hypothetical $15,000 gift of cash to a grandchild. They get to keep the entire $15,000 and can choose how to use it. However, if you give $15,000 of Apple stock and the recipient sells the stock with a gain, after at least 1 year—it becomes a taxable event. After the sale, the grandchild would owe a capital gains tax and possibly state taxes.1

Determining cost basis—how much you spent to buy the security plus fees and commissions—is the key to resolving your tax liability when a gifted stock is sold. If the stock is sold for more than the original purchase price, the difference is taxable as a capital gain.

Learn about the different types of trusts

A trust is a legal document that can help expand your options when it comes to managing your assets—whether you're trying to shield your wealth from taxes or pass it on to your children. Trusts are increasingly used by families from a range of economic backgrounds, not just the wealthy.

Irrevocable trusts can be beneficial to a donor considering gifting to minor children, as trusts allow for more donor control of the assets, even after the donor's death. By setting up a trust, donors can direct how they want the money to be managed and specify how it can be distributed and when it should be withheld. It can also be used as a vehicle to transfer assets to an adult child.

There are many other advantages to using a trust. The money could be protected from lawsuits, creditor claims, and divorce settlements, so long as the trust is structured properly. It can help ensure that the assets end up where you want them to go, with fewer unforeseen risks.

Another option to consider for gifting to minor children is utilizing a custodial account such as those established by the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UGMA/UTMA). A custodial account allows you to make gifts to an account invested in the child’s name, and the assets in the account can be used for any expense for the benefit of the child.

There are pros and cons to both custodial accounts and trusts. Your financial advisor can help you decide which is the most appropriate for your situation.

Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Do you need a trust?

Focused on education? Think about a 529 plan savings account.

If your focus is largely on helping a child, grandchild, or other person pay for education expenses, consider using a 529 savings account. A big plus with this type of account is that you and your spouse can front-load 5 years' worth of your annual exclusion gifts. Together, you could give 5 times the combined total of $30,000 for 2019, or $150,000, to each of your children or grandchildren without touching your lifetime federal gift tax exclusion for couples of $22.8 million.2

In addition, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded 529 plans beyond college to now include the ability to fund up to $10,000 in K–12 tuition per beneficiary per year.

The donor-advised fund

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a program of a public charity, such as Fidelity Charitable®, that allows donors to make contributions to the charity, become eligible to take an immediate tax deduction, and then make recommendations on distributing the funds to qualified charitable organizations. By making a large donation to the donor-advised fund, you can claim a tax deduction in the year of the gift. However, the money does not need to be granted to a charity in the year you make the contribution. You can let the money grow and you can decide later how the money will be distributed.

Tip: See Fidelity Charitable's guide to the potential tax implications (and advantages) of donating to charity.

Consider working with a financial advisor to help you get started building a holistic financial plan to reach your goals—which may also include strategies to make financial gifts to people and organizations that you care most about.

Next steps to consider

Looking for more information?

Call 800-343-3548 to get in touch 24/7.

Learn about the Fidelity Charitable Giving Account.

In-depth courses to help you manage your charitable giving.

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