Many of our clients own individual stocks that they either bought a long time ago or inherited from a family member. If they do not need to liquidate the stock in retirement to supplement their income, the question comes up “should I just gift the stock to my kids while I’m still alive or should I just let them inherit it after I pass away?” The right answer is largely influenced by the amount of appreciation or depreciation in the stock.
When you make a non-cash gift such as a stock, house, or even a business, the person receiving the gift assumes your cost basis in the assets. They do not receive a “step-up” in basis at the time the gift is made. Example, I buy XYZ Corp stock in 1995 for $10,000. In 2017, those shares of XYZ are now worth $100,000. If I gift them to my kids, no one owes tax on the gift at the time that the gift is made but my kids carry over my cost basis in the stock. If my kids hold the stock for 10 more years and sell it for $150,000, their basis in the stock is $10,000, and they owe capital gains tax on tne $140,000 gain. Thus, creating an adverse tax consequence for my kids.
Instead, let’s say I continue to hold XYZ stock and when I pass away my kids inherited the stock. If I pass away in 10 years and the stock is worth $150,000 then my kids receive a “step-up” in basis which means that their cost basis in the stock is the value of the stock as of the date of my death. They inherit the stock at $150,000 value, sell it the next day, and they owe $0 in taxes due to the step-up in basis upon my death.
In general, if you have assets that have low cost basis it is usually better for your heirs to inherit the assets as opposed to gifting it to them.
The concept is often times reversed for assets that have depreciated in value…..with an important twist. If I purchase XYZ Corp stock in 1995 for $10,000 but in 2017 it’s only worth $5,000, if I sold the stock myself I would capture the realized investment loss and could use it to offset investment gains or reduce my income by $3,000 for the IRS realized loss allowance.
Here is a very important rule……
In most cases, do not gift a depreciated asset to someone else. Why? When you gift an asset that has depreciated in value the carry over basis rules change. For an asset that has depreciated in value, the carry over basis for the person receiving the gift is the higher of the fair market value of the asset or the cost basis of the person making the gift. In other words, the loss evaporates when I gift the asset to someone else and no one gets the tax advantage of using the realized loss for tax purposes. It would be better if I sold the stock, captured the investment loss, and then gifted the cash.
If they inherit the stock that has lost value there is no value to the step-up in basis because the stock has not appreciated in value.
Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.