How gifts are made could have major impacts on heirs, especially if the recipient is a minor. There are many drawbacks to gifting outright, including limited control over gifts, exposure to creditors, divorce and litigation. Trust options are the recommended strategy, as discussed in the article “The Annual Exclusion For Gift Taxes Has Increased to $16,000—What Issues Should I Consider” from Mondaq.
When gifting directly to minors, a custodial account (ITMA) offers some structure. However, if the account terminates when the minor becomes of age, you then have a young person with no control and a lot of money. This is usually a bad combination.
For example, what if the annual exclusion gift of $16,000 is placed into a custodial account when the heir is nine and ends when the heir celebrates their 18th birthday? Even if the account earns no interest, by the time the heir reaches age 18, they will have complete access to $160,000 with no restrictions.
If there is a change to the custodian before the minor comes of legal age, the UTMA allows a primary custodian to name a successor. However, if this does not happen, the process of naming a successor custodian is generally burdensome and expensive.
Trust options or a transfer to a 529 plan are better options offering a lot more control by a trustee. Trusts allow assets to be used for a variety of needs, while the 529 plan limits withdrawals to be used for educational needs. The trustee may also continue to manage the account long after the heir has reached legal age, which to most people makes good sense.
Another option is a Section 2503(c) Minors Trust, which can be used for annual exclusion gifts to minors. They require that assets of the trust be applied for the minor who is a beneficiary of the trust. However, there are limited exceptions. There can only be one beneficiary and they must be under age 21. When the beneficiary turns twenty-one, they must be given the ability to withdraw the assets. However, any assets remaining in the trust can be kept in the trust and the trust itself can be converted into another form of irrevocable trust, allowing for continued annual exclusion gifts to be made for the beneficiary.
For more control, consider an irrevocable gift trust. The IGT can be used for the annual exclusion gift and is a smart choice for gifts greater than the annual exclusion when a Gift Tax Return is required. The person creating the irrevocable gifting trust appoints the trustees and should name alternates, if the primary trustee is unable to serve. The trustee then has discretion to manage the assets, including over distributions. Unlike a 2503(c) Minor Trust, the irrevocable gifting trust does not have to terminate or permit unrestricted access to income or principal.