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I am in the middle of a discussion on the Bond Board about my mothers retirement planning. One issue that came up is that it might help her considerably if I add money to her savings at her date of retirement. it would allow her savings to last much longer.

My questions are these:

If my wife and I gift her the maximum per year for 5 years, does she pay any taxes on that?

The recipient never pays any tax on gifts, regardless of frequency or amount. It's the donor who faces gift tax responsibility if annual gifts total more than the exempt amount (currently $11,000).

Is a gift the best way to get money to her?

From a strictly money management and tax standpoint, I'd wait until she needs the money then give it to her or, better yet, pay enough of her expenses that she'd qualify as my dependent. This raises a whole lot of personal issues, though, so you need to consider all aspects, not just the tax one.

You also need to think about what would happen should you die before she does. This is part of your estate planning which may need revision as you plan for her future.

If that money, and the proceeds, are left when she passes away, does it pass to me tax free (assuming an estate small enough to not be subject to taxes)?

After you give it to her it's her money, and if there's any left when she's gone it's distributed according to her will. Heirs, like gift recipients, recognize no taxable income unless the distribution would have been taxable income to the decedent, e.g., traditional IRA distributions.

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