What Is a Marital Trust?

Marital trusts have multiple benefits for beneficiaries, including asset allocation and tax benefits.  They are worth looking at in your estate plan.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Guide To Marital Trusts” says that a marital trust is an irrevocable trust that allows you to transfer a deceased spouse’s assets to the surviving spouse without paying any taxes. The trust also protects assets from creditors and future spouses that the surviving spouse may encounter.

When the surviving spouse dies, the assets in the trust aren’t included as part of their estate. That will keep the taxes on their estate lower.

There are three parties involved in setting up, maintaining and ultimately passing along the trust, including a grantor, who is the person who establishes the trust; the trustee, who’s the person or organization that manages the trust and its assets; and the beneficiary. That’s the person who will eventually receive the assets in the trust, once the grantor dies.

A marital trust also involves the principal, which are assets initially put into the trust.

A marital trust doubles the couple’s estate tax exemption limit, especially when almost all assets are owned by one spouse. Estate tax refers to the federal tax that must be paid on someone’s estate after they die. The estate tax limit is how much of an estate will be tax-free. In 2022, the estate tax limit is $12.06 million, which means utilizing a marital trust would essentially double that amount to $24.12 million. Therefore, about $24 million of a couple’s net worth would be shielded from estate taxes by taking advantage of a marital trust.

A marital trust is also beneficial because it can provide income to the surviving spouse, tax-free.

Only a surviving spouse can be a beneficiary of a marital trust. When the surviving spouse dies, the trust will then be passed on to whomever the first spouse’s will or trust governs.

If keeping wealth within your family after you die is important, then a marital trust is an estate planning tool that will make certain that individuals outside of your family don’t have access to the wealth. You can put a variety of assets into a marital trust, including property, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

A marital trust is one legal tool to consider using when planning for a blended family.

Reference: Forbes (June 30, 2022) “Guide To Marital Trusts”

What Does Portability Mean, and How Do I Use It?

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Portability and estates,” explains that each taxpayer is typically permitted what is called an applicable exclusion amount. This is the amount of assets that, at your death, you can bequeath to others tax-free for estate tax purposes. Prior to the law change, spouses couldn’t share their exclusions. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased this exclusion significantly. In 2019, the exclusion is $11.4 million per person.

The portion that’s not used by the deceased spouse can be transferred to the surviving spouse. The exclusion is indexed for inflation. However, this exemption level is only in effect until 2025. It will then again lower, probably to around half of its current level.

Before this tax law change, the most frequent way to maximize the exclusion was to set up a trust for each spouse—sometimes known an A/B trust. When the first spouse passes away, an amount equal to the exclusion would go to the B trust (also called a credit-shelter bypass trust).

The assets in this trust would be outside the surviving spouse’s estate and, because the exclusion was applied, were not subject to estate taxes. Anything remaining in the estate of the first to die, would be given to the survivor or could be placed in another trust. This trust is often called an A trust (or marital trust). Transfers to spouses aren’t usually subject to estate tax, so assets passing to the A marital trust would have no estate tax liability. At the surviving spouse’s death, his exclusion would be applied to the assets in the A trust. That way, both spouses would get the benefit of their exclusion.  However, this changed with the new tax law. The first spouse to die now uses the exclusion against assets in his estate. Any unused exclusion amounts can then be used by the surviving spouse with their own, at her death.

This would appear to simplify estate planning, for some, the use of two separate trusts will no longer be needed. However, remember these thoughts: (i) the unused applicable exclusion amount from an earlier marriage usually isn’t available, and you can use the amounts only from your last deceased spouse in your estate planning; (ii) these unused exclusion amounts aren’t indexed for inflation, so the property your spouse receives at your death may increase in value in the future, and its value could ultimately be greater than the unused exclusion; and (iii) to use portability, an estate tax return must be filed, so the estate executor must make an election to do so, by filing a return—even if the estate wouldn’t usually be required to do so.

Because of the tax law changes, estate documents drafted before 2010 may not accurately reflect your desire,s because portability and the increase in the exclusion amount can have an effect. Review the changes with your estate planning attorney.

Reference: WMUR (November 21, 2019) “Money Matters: Portability and estates”