There is no law saying you have to die before your assets can be passed to loved ones. In fact, gifting earlier can be a lovely way to witness how your money helps your family thrive.
If you want to make gifts now, the easiest way to avoid a tax bill is to limit your annual giving to $13,000 per recipient (the 2011 tax-free gift limit set by the IRS). Note that the $13,000 limit applies to individuals, not households. So you could give $13,000 to your grown son and $13,000 to his wife. And your spouse could give the same—resulting in a total of $52,000 free and clear of any tax. You can also make unlimited gifts to pay for someone else's educational or medical expenses without worrying about gift taxes.
Before you give away anything, though, think seriously about your own future: Today's 65-year-old woman will live an average of 20 more years, and you need to be sure your own retirement is secure before you contemplate giving anything away. Take care of your needs, and you'll be giving the most valuable gift to those who love you: Freedom from worrying about your well-being. And remember, what your nearest and dearest want most from you now is your love. That is the most precious gift you can give.
Suze Orman is the author of The Money Class: Learn to Create Your New American Dream (Spiegel & Grau). To ask Suze a question, go to oprah.com/omagazine_talk.
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