The general rule when it comes to the federal gift tax is that gifts from one spouse to another are tax-free, under the IRS’s Unlimited Marital Deduction. However, there are two very important exceptions to this general rule.
The first exception is that gifts to a spouse who is not a U.S. citizen are not always tax-free. If you’re married to someone who is not a citizen, then the 2011 rules allow you to give up to $184,000 in gifts to your spouse without filing a federal gift tax return and tapping into your lifetime gift tax exclusion. So, gifts of more than $184,000 to a non-citizen spouse are reportable to the IRS and, depending on your individual circumstances, might be taxable.
The IRS draws a line between gifts of a present interest in property and gifts of a future interest in property. A gift of a present interest in property is one that’s given to a recipient all at one time, with no strings attached. A gift of a future interest in property is one that requires the recipient to wait before receiving the full benefit of the property. For instance, if you take a life interest in a piece of real estate and give your spouse a remainder interest (meaning your spouse gets the house when you pass away), then your gift to your spouse is one of a future interest.
Even if your spouse is the recipient, gifts of a future interest are reportable and taxable.