The Moneyist: Is this life-changing Christmas gift from my new in-laws too good to be true?

The Moneyist: Is this life-changing Christmas gift from my new in-laws too good to be true?

1 Jan    Finance News

Dear Moneyist,

I am married to the love of my life and we are currently planning our forever home. It sounds great, and it was — until my new in-laws made their grand entrance. They are currently dangling the one gift that they know will change our lives — land — over our heads. They are offering us 20 acres of property in a trust, and say that a piece can be gifted to us without financial penalty. It’s free for us to build on. Is this too good to be true?

Connecticut-based son-in-law

Also see: Can I leave my stepchildren nothing if my husband dies?

Dear Son-in-law,

It will be a merry Christmas, after all! Or will it?

Your question has two parts, and both are related to tax: Can your in-laws give you such a gift without paying gift tax? And will it come with no emotional gift tax — that is, without any strings attached? The former question is easier to answer than the latter.

A qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) requires no gift or estate taxes to be paid. The lifetime federal estate-tax exemption is $11.58 million, or $23.16 million for 2020. Selling a home or land owned by such a trust can be tricky, however.

“You can use all or part of your gift and estate tax exemption during your lifetime,” according to Charles Schwab SCHW, -0.54%. “Any portion left over can then be used by your heirs to reduce or eliminate estate taxes that might otherwise be owed.”

MarketWatch’s Tax Guy has another solution: Wait until your in-laws die. “Why? Even if you pay a market-rate rent to your child, the IRS might argue the home’s full date-of-death value still belongs in your taxable estate.” One more thought: What happens if you divorce?

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There may be other, better options for your in-laws to gift this land to you, especially if you want to build your dream home on it. Do everything by the book and make sure you have a tax and/or an estate lawyer run through all the options.

The second part of your question has many variables: your relationship with your in-laws, how controlling (or not) they may be, and whether or not you opt for an irrevocable trust to make it more difficult to change their minds on a whim, to name a few.

The success of such a gift also depends on your own ability to receive it. Will you buckle under the weight of this gift from your in-laws for the rest of your and their lives? Will it alter the balance of power in your relationship?

Assuming you are fortunate enough to have a job and get a mortgage, you get a mortgage. Unemployment is at a 50-year low and we are experiencing a 10-year bull market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.27%  is up 23% this year; the S&P 500 SPX, +0.29%  is up 29%.

Whatever your financial situation, such a “gift tax” (not to be mixed up with the gift tax from the Internal Revenue Service) could make your in-laws feel like they have a hold over you. Giving assets to family members can also create jealousy among those who like to keep score.

Whatever you decide, be 100% sure before unwrapping this gift.

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Don’t miss: As a baby boomer, I didn’t grow up with this culture of entitlement — do I have to leave my estate to my children or spouse?

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, +0.41% group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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