Gifting money to children: Give now or later?

Financially helping family members can be rewarding. However, it pays to proceed thoughtfully.     

Tags: Assets, Estate planning, Trusts
Published: November 04, 2020

Perhaps your son asks for help with a down payment on the dream house for his growing family. Maybe your daughter is seeking startup funding for a promising new business. Or maybe you’ve been thinking it would feel gratifying to pass some wealth to your family sooner rather than later, so you can see the funds in use.

No matter what’s driving the decision, consider the financial and emotional implications before gifting significant assets to heirs.


How will giving now impact your future?

"The first and most important consideration is to examine any monetary gift in the context of your entire estate," says M. Wong, senior vice president and regional trust manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. It’s easy to get swept into an adult child’s pressing need or to be overcome with emotion when you’re thinking of passing on your legacy. However, you need to consider your own future first, and make sure you’re protecting your retirement years.

Whatever amount you’re considering giving or what its intended use, before making any decisions, Wong stresses, develop a gifting plan: how much, when and why. “It helps to lay out the whole picture to understand how much you can gift while keeping what you will need,” Wong says.


Reducing potential taxes with gifts

When it comes to your family’s immediate needs, gifts of cash/assets can offer the benefit of potentially reducing your estate tax burden — one of the main motivators for many who are considering gifting to heirs.

For smaller gifts, the IRS rules allow any individual to gift up to $15,000 per year to any recipient without having to consider the potential impact of a taxable gift. A married couple may give up to $30,000 to any individual.

Larger gifts may also sidestep tax liabilities if you’re willing to have them count against the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption, which is currently $11.58 million for individuals and $23.16 million for married couples (2021 limits are $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples).

The ease of such a gift is beneficial for the recipient, but on the flip side, you’ve given up control of it. “When you gift outright to your children, they may do with it whatever they wish,” Wong says. Watching adult children spend money in ways you wouldn’t can quickly sour the joy and satisfaction of giving.


A trust offers structure — and direction

For a little more control over the distribution, many people consider a trust. In its simplest form, a trust is an entity, created and funded with cash, assets and investments, which allows you to dictate how your estate is distributed to beneficiaries.

An irrevocable trust, in particular, may also be useful if the value of your estate exceeds the lifetime exemption. Although they typically can’t be changed or amended after they’re created, the assets move out of your estate and taxes are paid out of the trust, which can give you greater protection from estate taxes if created properly.

Irrevocable trusts come in various forms, depending on the gifting goals. “There are many ways of setting these up, and it’s not simply one approach or another — they can work together,” Wong says. “But you still need to make sure that the whole estate plan is taken care of in every direction.”


Trusts aren’t for everyone

Although trusts may be adapted to handle many situations, they have limitations. As complex, legally binding arrangements, it makes sense to be aware of their benefits and drawbacks. 

Benefits of gifting through a trust may include:

  • The joy of helping your children and seeing their appreciation while you’re still alive — as opposed to preserving your wealth until you pass away.
  • An unmatched level of control over gifts to children of any age.
  • The flexibility to drive decisions on gifts and philanthropy.
  • The option to arrange and structure funding for specific goals, such as lifelong care for children with disabilities.
  • Potential tax advantages for beneficiaries.


On the other hand, drawbacks of gifting through a trust may include:

  • Irrevocable means irrevocable, so whatever restrictions you create will carry on into the future. If you place too much in the trust too early, you may face limited access to cash down the road.
  • Mandatory reporting rules in some states require that beneficiaries be informed about trusts and what’s in them.
  • Incurring fees for trust administration.

When it comes to helping your heirs and preserving your legacy, a little planning can ease the way, helping to ensure you’re giving the way you intended.



Read more on trust and estate planning to learn how to support the people and causes you care about, now and in the future.


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