Under current law, a person has a right to give away $13,000 of assets to as many people as they see fit--free of gift tax. This is commonly referred to as the "annual exclusion".
One question that has developed over the years has been whether annual gifts of a family limited partnerships are eligible to qualify for the annual exclusion. The hiccup was that in order to be considered a gift eligible for the annual exclusion, the gift has to be a gift of a present interest, and not just some future right or benefit. (Reg. 25.2503-3(b).) The courts have held that in order to qualify as a present interest, the gift must confer a present economic benefit by reason of the use, possession, or enjoyment i) of property or ii) of income from the property.
The tricky part with gifts of family limited partnership interests is that most of their partnership agreements provide restrictions on transfers--so as to ensure the business interests remain in the family. The only problem is that the courts view these transfer restrictions as precluding the donees from having the right to use or enjoy the interest in a meaningful way. Thus, courts are left to consider whether there is income that is of use or benefit to the donee.
The recent case of the Estate of George H. Wimmer, TC Memo 2012-157, recently considered such a question and reiterated that for gifts of limited partnership interest to qualify for the annual exclusion under the argument that the donee received income, they must prove three things:
Often, partnership agreements contain language granting the general partners full discretion as to whether or not distributions will be made to the partners--which would not appear to satisfy the second requirement. In Wimmer, the Court noted that the general partners owed fiduciary duties to the donee limited partners, and that because the donee limited partners were actually irrevocable trusts, the only way such trusts would be able to pay their share of income tax would be for the partnership to make a distribution of income. Based on these unique facts, the court held that the income would in fact flow steadily to the donees.
In short, before deciding whether to make annual gifts of family limited partnerships, the partnership agreement should be read carefully so as to ensure that it contains language that will ensure such gifts will be treated as present interests and eligible for the annual exclusion.