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As promised, a fresh response from the IRS on this unclear area. Not exactly definitive, but helpful:

Issue: Gifts to individual
An annual $10,000 monetary gift is being made to a family member as part of a plan to reduce the amount of personal wealth exposed to potential estate tax. The gift is in form of personal check. The check is written and dated before the end of 2001, with the intention of counting as the maximum tax-free gift for tax year 2001. Check not cashed by giftee until first few days of 2002. Question: Can this count as a 2001 gift?

The Answer To Your Question Is:
The Internal Revenue Service goes with local law on this issue. You will have to check with your local law, but most jurisdictions hold that a gift is completed only when the donor (the person giving the money), has completely lost control over the transaction. In the case of checks, the writer of the check can cancel the check, can close the account, etc. before the check can be cashed. However, once the check has been cashed, it is very difficult for the writer to gain control of the money once again. So, for most States, the gift would be
deemed completed in the year the check was cashed and not written.

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