Gift-Tax Exemptions are Treated Differently by IRS and Medicaid

Gift-Tax Exemptions are Treated Differently by IRS and Medicaid
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Most people have heard that each individual is allowed to gift $15,000 per year to another person without paying a gift tax. However, exactly what the gift tax is, and the consequences of going beyond $15,000, are less clear.

Different government agencies have different rules for the same things. It’s a hard lesson, especially for those who try to use their $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion for asset protection for long-term care. The results are not good.

A recent article from The News-Enterprise makes it clear: “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in the same way.”

To understand the exclusion better, let’s start by looking at what the amount is being excluded from. The IRS generally allows each person to gift a total of $11.7 million in gifts during their lifetime and after death without incurring a gift tax. There are exceptions, but this is true in most cases. However, that first $15,000 given to each person within each calendar year is excluded from the total amount.

If a woman gives her three children $15,000 each per year for five years, she has given away a total of $225,000. However, this amount is not deducted from the $11.7 million that she is allowed within her lifetime non-taxable gift amount.

However, if the same woman gave her children $16,000 each for five years, the extra $3,000 per year must be deducted from her lifetime non-taxable gift limit. Unless she reaches the $11.7 million after her death, her estate will still not pay taxes on the gifts. She will be required to file a form every year letting the IRS know that she is reducing her limit.

The $15,000 exclusion each year simplifies the ability to give gifts without cumbersome reporting requirements. However, it creates huge—and costly—problems when used in an attempt to become eligible for Medicaid. This federally funded program was created to help low-income people pay for medical and nursing home care. A person’s assets and any financial transactions made within a five-year lookback period are considered when determining eligibility.

What most people don’t know is that Medicaid does not allow the gift tax exclusion to be used for the lookback period.

Remember the woman who gave her three children $15,000 each year for five years? If she goes into a nursing facility in the fifth year, after giving her final set of gifts, the IRS won’t count any of those gifts made against her lifetime gift tax exemption. However, Medicaid will count the full amount—$225,000—as if those assets were available to pay for her care. The penalty period will make it necessary for her or her family to pay for care, possibly for five years.

To take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion safely when Medicaid may be in the future, an estate planning attorney can create an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust to hold assets. This is a hybrid trust used to separate assets from the grantor just enough to begin the five-year lookback period while holding property within the grantor’s taxable estate, allowing for a continuing opportunity to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion without triggering a new five-year look back at each gift.

The IRS and Medicaid work under different rules and understanding what each agency requires can protect the family and those needing nursing home care without creating expensive and stressful results. In addition, some Medicaid planning techniques may work in some states but not in others.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 14, 2021) “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in the same way”