What Is the Point of a Trust?

A trust is an agreement made when a person, referred to as the trustor or grantor, gives a third party, known as the trustee, the authority to hold assets for the trust beneficiaries. The trustee is in charge of the trust and responsible for executing the trust’s instructions as per the language in the trust, explains a recent article from The Skim, “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy).”

Some examples of how trusts are used: if the grantor doesn’t want beneficiaries to have access to funds until they reach a certain age, the trustee will not distribute anything until the age as directed by the trust. The funds could also be solely used for the beneficiaries’ health care needs or education or whatever expense the grantor has named, the trustee decides when the funds should be released.

Trusts are not one-size-fits-all. There are many to choose from. For instance, if you wanted the bulk of your assets to go to your grandchildren, you might use a Generation-Skipping Trust. If you think your home’s value may skyrocket after you die, you might want to consider a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) to reduce taxes.

Trusts fall into a few categories:

Testamentary Trust vs. Living Trust

A testamentary trust is known as a “trust under will” and is created based on provisions in the will after the grantor dies. A testamentary trust fund can be used to make gifts to charities or provide lifetime income for loved ones.

In most cases, trusts don’t have to go through the probate process, that is, being validated by the court before beneficiaries can receive their inheritance. However, because the testamentary trust is tied to the will, it is subject to probate. Your heirs may have to wait until the probate process is completed to receive their inheritance. This varies by state, so ask an estate planning attorney in your state.

Living trusts are created while you are living and are also known as revocable trusts. As the grantor, you may make as many changes as you like to the trust terms while living. Once you die, the trust becomes an irrevocable trust and the terms cannot be changed. There’s no need for the trust to go through probate and beneficiaries receive inheritances as per the directions in the trust.

What are the key benefits of creating a trust? A trust doesn’t always need to go through probate and gives you greater control over the assets. If you create an irrevocable trust and fund it while living, your assets are removed from your probate estate, which means whatever assets are moved into the trust are not subject to estate taxes.

Are there any reasons not to create a trust? There are costs associated with creating a trust. The trust must also be funded, meaning ownership documents like titles for a car or deeds for a house have to be revised to place the asset under the control of the trust. The same is true for stocks, bank accounts and any other asset used to fund the trust.

For gaining more control over your assets, minimizing estate taxes and making life easier for those you love after you pass, trusts are a valuable tool. Speak with your estate planning attorney to find out which trust works best for your situation. Your estate plan and any trusts should complement each other.

Reference: The Skim (Oct. 26, 2022) “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy)”

Estate Planning for Changing Economic Times

Estate plans created during a historically low interest rate environment may need to be re-examined and new techniques considered, according to a recent article titled “Estate Planning For A New Day” from Financial Advisor.  Inflation changes the future value of assets and the value of real estate and taxes due on distributions. For an estate plan to succeed, it is critical to know the value of the assets and how the value of those assets change over time. Accurately determining the value of an estate is necessary to measure any potential estate tax liabilities and plan for their payment.

Inflation may also impact how much is gifted during life or after death without paying federal estate taxes. These exemption levels are reevaluated every January 1 and increase, if warranted, by inflation.

Inflation will cause the federal estate and gift tax exemptions to increase significantly in January 2023, which will give wealthier clients the ability to make large gifts in 2023. For 2022, the exclusion for gifts other than those for medical or educational purposes is $16,000 per donor. However, gifts over that amount count towards the lifetime exemption, currently at $12.06 million per person. The lifetime exemption works jointly with the estate tax exemption and also covers transfers gifted through the estate.

How much these amounts are adjusted is determined by federal inflation estimates, which are not always accurate. If real inflation exceeds the government’s projections, an estate could become taxable due to inflation alone. Once the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expires in 2025, the exemption amounts are set to take a nosedive.

Unless Congress acts, on Jan. 1, 2026, the lifetime exemption amount will revert to its old level, or even lower. Now is the time to look into using those exemptions.

Some professionals believe inflation has little impact on estate planning, which is by its nature a long-term matter and not subject to daily ups and downs of markets or news cycles. However, inflation is tied to interest rates, and rising interest rates need to be considered since they impact estate planning strategies.

Charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) are more attractive now because of higher interest rates. The initial donation to the trust is partially tax-deductible and any income generated by the trust is tax exempt. The trust, which is irrevocable, then distributes income to the grantor or beneficiary for a specified period of time. At the conclusion of the time period, the remainder is donated to charity.

GRATS and QPRTs are less advantageous, since they rely on declining interest rates. GRATS allow assets to be locked into irrevocable trusts for a set period of time, during which the beneficiaries can draw an annual income at interest rate set by the IRS. When the term expires, any appreciation of the original assets, minus the payout rate, passes to heirs with little or no gift taxes.

Qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs) allow users to lock away the value of a residence in an irrevocable trust for a period of time. The grantor can remain in the home and keep partial interest in its value. Afterwards, the rest of the value, determined by the IRS, is transferred to heirs. The goal is to remove the family home from the estate and decrease the gift tax incurred by otherwise transferring the asset. However, if the grantor dies before the trust expires, the value of the residence is included in the estate and taxed with it.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to review your current estate plan with an eye to rising interest rates and inflation and deem which strategies still work, which don’t and how best to move forward. This has been a general overview and individual counsel is critical.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Oct. 1, 2022) “Estate Planning For A New Day”