You don’t have to wait until you pass away to bestow financial benefits upon your eventual heirs. And there are some creative and money-saving ways to do this other than splitting up your estate in a will.

In fact, those of us in or approaching retirement might be able to help our heirs right now, even if we don’t have a lot of money to spare. Some gifts that are very valuable to our heirs end up costing us relatively little or even nothing at all.

Better yet, there are forms of financial assistance we can provide during our lives that will be rewarding for us as well as our heirs—and that could strengthen family ties.

Among the options…

THE GIFT OF VACATION

If you own a vacation home or recreational vehicle, your relatives may have thought about inquiring whether they could use it but were too shy to ask. You could offer to let them use it when you’re not using it yourself. This costs you virtually nothing but saves them the hundreds or even thousands of dollars that they might have spent on alternative vacation accommodations.

If you don’t own a vacation property, you could offer to pay most or all of the cost of a group vacation for yourself, your offspring and their families…and/or other relatives you would include in your will.

That does require money out of your pocket, but you probably can find a significantly lower rate on one large vacation home rental than the combined amounts that family members would pay for lodging if they vacationed separately. Renting one large home rather than many hotel rooms also fosters family togetherness—and it means that the family can pool child-care and food-preparation duties, making the vacation less work for everyone.

Tax loophole: There is an additional benefit if your estate will likely top $1 million—paying for family vacations removes money from your estate without depleting your lifetime gift-tax exemption or annual gift-tax exclusion. The IRS has never attempted to treat family vacations as taxable gifts. Estate taxes might not currently be a major concern, with the estate tax exemption at $5.12 million, but there’s a chance that the figure could drop to as low as $1 million starting next year.

THE GIFT OF FINANCIAL PLANNING

If you have financial advisers you trust, consider paying for your future heirs to become their clients, too. This gift will pay for itself many times over if it puts your adult children or grandchildren on the path to prudent money management. It also can provide you with some peace of mind that any inheritance your heirs later receive from you will not be squandered.

If family members’ financial interests overlap, as they often do, hiring the same financial adviser to work with multiple family members will make it easier to integrate everyone’s financial plans as well.

Example: You intend to give several of your heirs joint ownership of a piece of property. Transferring and coordinating property ownership will be much easier if all of the family members use the same adviser.

And paying one adviser to work with multiple family members offers an opportunity for savings. If the adviser bills based on a percentage of assets under management, there likely is a sliding scale—clients with more assets pay a lower percentage than those with fewer assets. Advisers typically agree to bill extended families based on the entire family’s asset pool, resulting in a lower billing rate. An adviser who charges by the hour also might be willing to offer a discount in exchange for bringing in heirs as clients.

Helpful: If some of your heirs live far away, they can meet with this adviser when they visit you—it’s an added incentive for these distant heirs to make annual visits. They can communicate with the adviser via phone or e-mail during the rest of the year.

THE GIFT OF NETWORKING

If you’re an experienced businessperson or salesperson, you might have built up an extensive network of professional contacts and/or clients over the years. Such networks typically go to waste when people retire, but they don’t need to. If one of your future heirs is in your field…in a related field…or has some interest in entering your field, start bringing him/her along when you meet with your contacts.

Example: A business consultant nearing retirement brings along his granddaughter, who has a business degree, when he meets with clients, introducing her as his relative and employee.

Retirees sometimes can do this, too, by arranging informal meetings with former members of their professional networks.

LOW-INTEREST FAMILY LOANS

Today’s low interest rates make this a wonderful time to lend money to family members. IRS rules require that interest be charged on loans—if it isn’t, the IRS considers those loans to be gifts and taxes them accordingly. But the minimum interest rate that must be charged to avoid this drawback varies based on Treasury bill and bond yields. And those yields currently are so low that it’s possible to charge family members nearly no interest without tax consequences.

Helpful: Precisely how much interest must be charged depends on the length of the loan, among other factors. See the most recent “Applicable Federal Rates” table for details—Google the terms “IRS” and “applicable federal rates” to locate this. These interest payments can later be forgiven, if you like, though forgiven payments will count toward your lifetime or annual gift tax exclusion.

Intrafamily loans will be particularly welcome to heirs who cannot otherwise qualify for attractive interest rates because of less-than-perfect credit histories.

If you provide a mortgage loan to a family member, the borrower even can deduct his mortgage interest payments, just as he could deduct those made to a conventional lender. The mortgage must be secured against the property to qualify for this deduction, and certain other conditions must be met as well. See IRS Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, for details.

Or make low-rate loans to heirs so that they have money to invest. Your heirs might need long-term investment growth more than you do at this point in your life.

If you do make a family loan, draft and sign a formal loan agreement, complete with payment schedule, in case you later need to provide the IRS with proof that this really was a loan and not a gift.

Inform your estate-planning attorney of any family loans of significant size so that they can be noted in your estate plan. Otherwise, if you pass away before the loan is repaid, your assets might not be divided among your heirs as you had intended.