Many families use their estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions to fund a flexible modern trust for non-tax reasons, explains an article “Trust Planning in Unprecedented Times” from Wealth Management. Future uncertainty is one of the reasons, which seems keenly appropriate today.
Passing family values as well as wealth to future generations is an important part of estate planning for many families. A directed trust can accomplish both goals, through the participation of family members and advisors in the directed trust’s distribution committee (DC). The DC decides how trust income and principal will be distributed and directs the administrative trustee accordingly.
Any distribution over and above the health, education, maintenance and support of beneficiaries needs to be considered from a tax-sensitive perspective, but the DC has the flexibility to make these decisions.
These modern directed trusts can also be created to allow for charitable purposes. Donations to charity from a non-charitable modern directed trust lets the family express its social responsibility, while obtaining unlimited income tax deductions to the trust.
There are instances where knowledge of a trust is kept from beneficiaries or other family members, if they lack the financial maturity or do not understand or comply with family values. Other reasons to keep a trust quiet are asset protection, divorce, ID theft and similar issues. In many modern trust states, the trust can remain quiet, even after the grantor has died or becomes incapacitated.
Modern directed trusts provide protection against divorce. Often the trust’s main protection is the use of a spendthrift provision, which prevents the assignment of a beneficiaries’ interests in an irrevocable trust before the interest is distributed. There are exceptions to the spendthrift clause, and alimony is one of them. In recent cases, courts have disregarded the spendthrift clause when exceptions are involved, especially in cases of divorce.
Litigation can be a problem for trusts. Modern trusts provide excellent asset protection when trust discretionary interests are not defined as property or an enforcement right. Many trusts have clauses providing a court to award legal fees and costs to the winning party. The trustee may be reimbursed for attorney’s fees if the plaintiff loses, a significant discouragement for embarking on litigation against a modern trust.
COVID-19 has reframed how often people think about their mortality, which has fueled interest in creating trusts to protect family assets and heirlooms. A “purpose trust” does not have beneficiaries, but is created to care, protect and preserve an asset, either for an extended period of time or even perpetuity. Assets typically placed in a purpose trust include gravesites, antiques, art, jewelry, royalties, digital assets, land, property, buildings and vacation homes.
The uncertain times in which we live call for unprecedented estate planning. Modern directed trusts are a way to preserve wealth across generations with flexibility. Regardless of what changes to federal estate, gift or generation skipping trusts may come in the future, trusts make sense.
Reference: Wealth Management (Jan. 10, 2022) “Trust Planning in Unprecedented Times”