Category: Credit Shelter Trust

Trusts from A to Z

Many folks assume that trust funds are only for the rich, however, people in all types of economic circumstances may see a benefit from them. A trust fund is a special legal arrangement that lets a benefactor arrange for certain assets to go to someone else. 11-04-16

Motley Fool’s recent article, “Navigating the World of Trust Funds: Your Quick Guide,” explains that there are various types of trust funds that can serve as useful estate-planning tools. Here’s a rundown of revocable or irrevocable trusts, credit shelter trusts, generation-skipping trusts, and qualified personal-residence trusts.

Revocable trusts. Also known as a revocable living trust, this trust lets you manage your trust during your lifetime. In creating the trust, you can name yourself as the trustee in charge of overseeing its assets. This lets you move assets in and out of the trust as you want or even terminate the trust if your circumstances change. There’s a good deal of flexibility, and a major benefit is that they have the ability to bypass probate. Depending on where you live, probate can be lengthy and expensive. A revocable trust can also reduce the estate tax burden on your beneficiaries.

Irrevocable trusts. This is the opposite of a revocable trust. It can't be altered or terminated without the consent of the trustee and the trust's beneficiaries (and perhaps a judge). When you place assets into an irrevocable trust, you may no longer have any rights to them. The big benefit is saving money on estate taxes. When you transfer assets into an irrevocable trust, they're no longer yours and are excluded from your estate's value for tax purposes. Also, trust assets may be more difficult to access by creditors or anyone who initiates a lawsuit against you. And if you hold assets that you think will really appreciate over time, you can transfer those assets into the trust to remove them from your taxable estate and ensure that any future appreciation on them isn't subject to estate taxes. It’s a serious long-term commitment and may be a good option if you have a larger estate.

Credit shelter trusts. This trust can help wealthy married couples lower their estate taxes by maximizing federal and state exemptions. If you set up a credit shelter trust, the assets in that trust will be transferred to your beneficiaries upon your death, but your spouse can keep his or her rights to the assets contained in the trust for the rest of his or her life. Ultimately, however, those assets won't be counted as part of your spouse's estate. This helps your family take advantage of available tax exemptions. With portability, this trust may not be as useful as it once was. Portability lets the first spouse who dies transfer his or her assets along with the "unused" estate tax exclusion amount to the surviving spouse, who can then apply this enhanced exclusion amount in his or her own estate.

Generation-skipping trusts. This trust is established for the benefit of your grandchildren, as opposed to your children. These trusts are used to avoid estate taxes: if your children inherit your estate directly, then the value of your estate is added to the value of their estate and this could potentially trigger estate taxes when they die. By skipping your children’s generation you may be able to transfer more assets to your family than to the IRS over the long term. The generation-skipping trust is subject to taxes, but it can be structured to reduce estate taxes, allowing affluent families to preserve their wealth for future generations. A big advantage of generation-skipping trusts is that they can help avoid generation-skipping transfer tax.

Qualified personal residence trusts. This trust lets you leave your home to your beneficiaries and decrease your estate taxes. You can transfer your property by deed into the trust while retaining the right to live there for a certain period of time. Once that’s over, your beneficiaries can inherit your home, paying taxes on the value of the home at the time of the deed transfer. A qualified personal residence trust can be useful in locking in a lower value for gift tax purposes. And you can claim a lower value of the gift for your beneficiaries based on their delay in actually receiving the property. But if you die while living in your home, it’ll count as part of your estate and be taxed according to its value at that time.

Trust funds can be a big element in your estate-planning strategy, so talk with a qualified trust attorney to see which type of trust is best for you.

Reference: Motley Fool (Sept. 18, 2016) “Navigating the World of Trust Funds: Your Quick Guide”

A New Era of Estate Planning

ThinkAdvisor's article, "New Estate Planning Strategies for a Post-Portability World," says that there may be many folks who've continued to rely upon their outdated, pre-2013 estate plans. This could easily lead to adverse tax consequences in the future. 7-26-2016

Reviewing a pre-2013 estate plan may be really beneficial for higher-income individuals. There are new techniques and strategies to help them take advantage of the new rules to minimize estate and income tax liability.

Relying on the old credit shelter trust strategy may no longer be a wise move, since there are new strategies that can produce dramatic tax savings—as well as more flexibility.

Prior to portability, which allows a surviving spouse to (almost) automatically use the deceased spouse's estate tax exemption, credit shelter trusts were used by married couples to fully use their two estate tax exemptions. Part of the deceased spouse's assets equal to the estate tax exemption amount would be placed into a trust created for the benefit of the surviving spouse. The remaining assets—those in excess of the deceased spouse's exemption—would pass outright to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse didn't technically own the assets held in the trust. As a result, those assets would pass without estate tax to his or her heirs. The assets that the surviving spouse owned outside of the trust would also pass without estate tax up to the value of—but not exceeding—the exemption amount.

For many, a credit shelter trust isn't necessary for estate tax purposes. The "permanently" higher federal estate tax exemption is now at $5.45 million this year. Many folks don't understand that the value of the assets (tax basis) is in effect frozen at the time they're placed in the credit shelter trust. Thus, if those assets appreciate in value, they may create an unexpected income tax hit for the heirs. But if those assets were left outright to the surviving spouse, they'd see a step-up in basis upon the surviving spouse's death. If the asset value has appreciated, capital gains taxes are minimized.

But unlike a credit shelter trust strategy, a disclaimer strategy can provide flexibility to a surviving spouse. This lets a spouse evaluate his or her financial circumstances and the tax rules as they actually exist at the time of the deceased spouse's death. To use this strategy, he or she leaves all assets to the surviving spouse outright but gives the survivor the option of disclaiming those assets. If the spouse opts to disclaim the assets, they'll pass into a bypass trust established for his or her benefit. This can be nice if the surviving spouse lives in a state with its own estate or inheritance tax, since that exemption may be a lot lower than the federal exemption. In addition, a bypass trust can also be good from an asset protection standpoint if the surviving spouse is worried about creditors' claims or a possible new spouse later in life. The disclaimer strategy lets the surviving spouse analyze his or her situation when it's relevant. They don't have to rely on a strategy that was possibly put into place years before.

Regardless, consult a qualified estate planning attorney to help you select the most appropriate strategy for your circumstances.

Reference: ThinkAdvisor (June 7, 2016) "New Estate Planning Strategies for a Post-Portability World"