The federal government imposes a substantial tax on gifts of money or property above certain levels. Without such a tax someone with a sizable estate could give away a large portion of their property before death and escape death taxes altogether. For this reason, the gift tax acts more or less as a backstop to the estate tax. And yet, few people actually pay a gift tax during their lifetime. A gift program can substantially reduce overall transfer taxes; however, it requires good planning and a commitment to proceed with the gifts.
Under the recently enacted Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, generating long term capital gains or acquiring dividend income could be two of your big opportunities to save on taxes. Be aware that the Act of 2003 created “sunset provisions”, however, meaning that the tax rates on both capital gains and dividends may go up again unless congress acts to extend the rates. The lower rates are currently only legislated through 2010.