Finally finishing the “Debunking Estate Planning Myths” series, as discussed in part 4, revocable living trusts let individuals place more than land into a trust. Doing so typically prevents beneficiaries from going through probate, allows other vehicles to grow tax free, and keeps the terms of the estate distribution private. Also, not only do trusts save beneficiaries the time and expense of opening a probate estate, but trusts also minimize estate tax exposure for beneficiaries.
Tax minimization relates directly to another intermediate but classic estate planning tool and technique – an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). ILITs are a combination of 2 estate planning tools, a trust and life insurance, used to minimize estate tax burdens for beneficiaries. Life insurance proceeds that would be considered part of the estate are used to fund a trust and deemed removed from the estate altogether. A number of criteria have to be met, such as using a policy that the insured has no interest in the policy, e.g., does not withdraw the cash from a cash value policy. However, if we think about it, typically we don’t buy life insurance for investment purposes but only for income replacement purposes. So if we’re not planning to use the life insurance, then why not let it benefit our loved ones in more than one way and place it in an ILIT?
Using particular language in children’s trust provisions is another way to provide beneficiaries with the time needed to mature before having substantial means placed into their hands. Provisions with this language are called “staggered mentoring” provisions, which instruct the trustee to distribute certain percentages of the total trust funds to the children at ages 25, 30, and 35 years, for example. Parents also can place conditions on distributions so that a child doesn’t receive a distribution unless he or she performs on at least an average academic level in college and becomes a productive member of society. Mentioning this tends to result in a few “likes” by parents on my Facebook page.
Trusts are also used to provide enhanced tax minimization for the surviving spouse. By using the federal marital deduction and other available elections, families can defer the payment of estate tax payments of the first spouse until the second spouse’s death.
Another way that trusts are used is to provide for surviving spouses, partners, and children using retirement proceeds. Typically, beneficiaries should be named directly on retirement accounts. Under certain situations, the retirement account should be maintained as an “inherited” account, and occasionally a trust should be named beneficiary where the individual beneficiary is dependent on a trustee. The trustee then pays out the proceeds over the lifespan of the beneficiary as opposed to the original account owner.
Because trustees are the actual legal owners of the trust property, beneficiaries may be protected from creditors because trustees can be given sole discretion to distribute funds, and may pay institutions, such as colleges and hospitals directly.