(Article published in the Dec
issue of TODAY, Business Section)
year-end is that time of year when tax advisers usually ask their clients
to consider the virtues of gift-giving, or, more better still,
gift-splitting. In very dramatic fashion, it is demonstrated that
making one’s gift when everyone is paying attention to the fireworks on
New Year’s eve has its economic benefits. Cutting one’s tax bill
on gifts to one’s children is not a bad way to start 2004.
logic is compelling. Let us say an estate owner has an estate worth
P20,000,000.00 and expects that all he needs is one-half of that while he
is alive. In other words, P 10,000,000 he is resigned would pass on
to his children as his legacy, inheritance, or whatever.
he were to do nothing at all, and his expectations come to pass, the
estate tax on the P 10,000,000.00 he will by his death give to his
children is P 1,215,000.00. If, on the other hand, he were to
anticipate his dying by giving the P 10,000,000 now, or, say on December
31, 2003, then the tax that would have to be paid is P 1,004,000.00.
He will therefore achieve, by giving now instead of upon his death,
transfer tax savings of P 211,000.
however, he wants to save some more, the estate owner could split his gift
into two, one in the amount of P 5,000,000 to be given on December 31,
2003 one second before the
stroke of midnight, and the balance of P 5,000,000 one second after.
The result of splitting the P 10,000,000 gift into two gifts, separated by
only one gulp of a beer or a sip of champagne, is savings in gift taxes in
the amount of P 196,000.
magic is not in the alcohol but in the method of computing the donor’s
tax, annually. The gift on December 31, 2003 is not lumped
together with the gift on January 1, 2004 because they are given in
separate years. The P 5,000,000 given on December 31 will be taxed P
404,000.00. The balance of P 500,000 will also be taxed at P
404,000, and thus the total of the transfer taxes for the two gifts, is
only P 808,000. Hence, the cheers of gift-splitting, savings in gift taxes
of P 196,000. If the P 808,000 taxes due on gift-splitting is
compared with the P 1,215,000 which would have to be paid upon the estate
owner’s death, the savings of P 407,000 can pay for another drink
arithmetic is enough (there are other benefits to gift-giving rather than
giving by dying) to convince estate owners to execute donations at this
time of year. Two words of caution, however, are appropriate while
we are still sober.
first is that gift-splitting will work best if there are no gifts made
during any one of the two years. If, say, the same estate owner had
gone through the same exercise the last Christmas season, and had given P
5,000,000 on January 1, 2003 (after giving P 5,000,000 on December 31,
2002), then the tax on his gift on December 31, 2003 will be P 1,004,000
less the tax he paid on the first gift of the year, namely P 400,000.
This is because, all the gifts in one year are lumped together (cumulated,
the tax experts say) and the resulting tax on the last gift of the year is
computed as if all the gifts during that year were made on that occasion.
Taxes on previous gifts during the year are considered tax credits, or
advances of the final tax due. One who wants to take advantage of
gift-splitting several times should therefore separate his exercises by
one year during which he does not make any gift.
other word of caution is that one must make sure that the gift is really a
gift. It generally makes no sense to simply try to save on taxes but
seek to retain economic benefits from the property given. The very
common pitfall is for the estate owner to provide in his deed of donation
that he is giving “out of his love and affection” for the donees (this
is the language of a donation and therefore the purpose of putting it is
to establish the premise that the gift was made during his lifetime) but
to say, further, that it is to be effective upon the donor’s death.
If the donee should die ahead of the donor, the donation usually says the
donation is to be considered automatically rescinded.
foregoing provisions on effectivity upon death and predecease of the donee
nullifies the tax benefits of giving during one’s lifetime. The
courts have consistently held that that language indicates an intent to
transfer the property upon the donor’s death. Hence, it should be
in the form of a will and must be probated to take effect. The
consequence of this is that the property (on which the donor’s tax had
already been paid) must still be included in the computation of the gross
estate of the decedent and subjected to the estate tax.
what, as far as I know, is the only case on this subjected decided this
year by the Supreme Court, in Ganuelas
v. Cawed, G.R. No. 123968, promulgated 24 April 2003, it was held,
summarizing previous rulings, that the following are the tale-tale signs
of a donation intended to take effect upon one’s death (a donation mortis
cause, says your lawyer relative trying to impress your grandmother):
The “donation” conveys no title or ownership to the transferee before
the death of the transferor; or, what amounts to the same thing, the
transferor retains ownership (full or naked) and control of the property
Before his death, the transfer can be revoked at will, (ad
says our favorite lawyer relative again). This revocability is
sometimes indirectly reserved by means of retaining for the donor the
power to dispose of the property purportedly given; and
The transfer is considered void if the transferor should survive the
All these simply means that one should plan carefully and consider one’s estate planning options way ahead of the toasting and the roasting of the Christmas season. To fail to do so, is to simply increase the possibility of running into unwanted complications and incurring expenses to no avail, if not outright fomenting family quarrels. Cases among family members I have always considered as “a lawyer’s delight”.