Articles Posted in Living Trusts

Many people are curious about what happens after they are no longer able to manage their assets. Many chances are created when it comes to estate planning arrangements and trusts play a large role in estate planning. If you choose wisely, trusts fortunately can prove to be an excellent way to reduce the taxes ultimately placed on your estate.

Establishing a Trust

Trusts are a type of arrangement used to the advantage of entities or people that the trust creator selects. Trusts vary greatly in activation as well as how they are accessed. Trusts tend to break down into the following kinds:

If you’re creating a plan for what will happen to your estate after you pass away or become incapacitated, you’ve likely familiar with the advantages you can realize by creating a living trust. Items positioned in a trust do not pass through probate, which can be a costly and time-intensive process. Living trusts (also referred to as revocable trusts) let a person appoints a trust administrator to look after an estate after the creator passes away. 

Living trusts often simplify how assets in estates are passed on. Unfortunately, countless opportunities exist to make errors, especially if you’re tasked with transferring items to a trust. Certain kinds of accounts should never pass into a trust.  These certain accounts should not pass into a trust even in situations where they represent the majority of an estate. This category includes retirement accounts like 401(k) plans as well as other types of retirement accounts. 

If you pass on assets to a trust, the Internal Revenue Service will classify the interaction as a distribution and you will be required to pay income taxes.

In a recent opinion, a Minnesota Appellate Court rejected a petition to revise a trust’s terms to permit the early distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries. The court also rejected a request by the petition for the trust to pay attorney’s fees and held that the litigation was neither necessary nor existed for the benefit of the trust. This opinion functions as a reminder of the high threshold that a person must overcome when beneficiaries attempt to revise a trust’s distribution terms.

The Court’s Decision

In Skarsten-Dineman v. Milton, a trust settlor established a revocable naming his six children as the primary beneficiaries following his death. Assets were to be passed to the man’s children until three of them had passed away then the trustee was to end the trust and pass on the principal equally divided to the surviving children. 

In the recent case of Riverside County Public Guardian v. Snukst, a California appellate Court resolved an issue involving the Medi-Cal program, which is California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. The program is overseen by the California Department of Health Services. In Riverside, the Department of Health Services pursued payment from a revocable inter vivos trust for the benefits provided on behalf of a person during his life. After the man’s death, the probate required the assets in the revocable inter vivos trust be passed on to the sole beneficiary instead of the Department of Health. 

The Court of Appeals determined that federal and state law involving revocable inter vivos trusts required the Department of Health receive funds from the trust before any distribution to the beneficiary. Subsequently, the judgment was reversed and remanded.

For trusts to work as a person wants, the trust must avoid future disagreements and disputes among those impacted by the trust’s terms. This article reviews some of the best things that you can do to avoid trust disputes.

PROPOSAL TO MOVE BACK TO PREVIOUS TRUST LAWS

As this blog discussed in the recent past, dynasty trusts are trusts that allow for a benefactor to pass wealth on to future generations via various legal mechanisms that allow a trust to carry on for literally hundreds of years, overcoming the traditional rule against perpetuities that limited trusts to a life in being plus 20 years, thereby ending the legal life of a trust essentially at about 90 to 100 years.  In March, 2016 President Obama submitted a proposed budget that includes a provision that would effectively eliminate these state trusts at about 90 years.

Every year, the Department of Treasury prints what is called a green book which outlines proposals, which, among other things, contains suggestions that the presidential administration believes are needed and appropriate changes to the law, policy or other regulatory and legal matters.  It also contains information regarding exceptions and issues that are unique to dealing with the federal government.  Under President Obama’s proposal, as found in after page 190 in the green book, this would be done by eliminating the generations skipping tax exemption at 90 years from the date of its creation.  

VERY SIMPLE CONCEPT

This blog examined the dynasty trust in the past but it is time to reexamine certain aspects of the dynasty trust.  The dynasty trust is a trust designed primarily to avoid the generation skipping transfer tax when a person wants to leave money to their grandchildren or great grandchildren (or even generations beyond that).  Before getting into the nuts and bolts of what a dynasty trust is, it is best to outline some of the basic tax issues inherent in the generation skipping transfer tax.  

Grandfather wants to leave an asset to his son, with the intention that he will leave it to his son and for him to leave it to his son and so on.  Just to make the dollar figures simple, let us assume that it worth $10 million.  For further simplicity, let us also assume that grandfather’s estate already went through the federal (and state) estate tax exemption.  That means that son has to pay the current top estate tax rate of 40%, which means that the asset is no longer worth $10 million.  Instead it is only worth $6 million.  For further simplicity, father’s estate also passed through all of his estate tax exemption, so instead of the asset being worth $6 million when it passes to the grandson, it is now worth $3.6 million in light of the 40% estate tax.  And the process goes on and on.  

KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in an opinion on a first amendment, free speech issue that became famous, but is so commonplace and true about life. Specifically he said that some things are hard to define, but he would know he if he saw it. That same sentiment holds true for so many things in life and the law. Many times certain phrases, concepts or principles can be reduced to a canned or trite definition but still better expressed as the kind of thing that you know it when you see it. The principle of undue influence of a testator creating or amending a will is the type thing that could best be defined as such. For certain courts and legislatures created any number of definitions, but life has a way of finding another set of circumstances that do not fit any such definition but is undue influence just the same. Indeed New York state’s standard jury instructions on the issue of undue influence and duress comes from a case that specifically states that undue influence is difficult to define. Despite the limitations, a good working definition is when the testator was unable to exercise independent action and the person exercising the influence made the person do something against their free will and desire. Charm, ties of affection and past kind acts are not enough. Instead the actor must engage in an act of coercion to make the actor do what they would not otherwise do. Some Courts even broke the definition of undue influence down even further, by stating that it can even be found when a testator believes what the influencer wants them to believe, without even knowing that the influencer asserted their will over them.

There are certain hallmarks that are common with issues of undue influence.

STRANGE NAME, GREAT CONCEPT

A person is entitled to gift up to $14,000 per year without incurring any gift tax liability. There are some limitations to those gifts, however. The gift must be for the unlimited, present usage of the interest that is being conveyed. That creates problems for when someone wants to convey up to $14,000 per year to a minor but not have the same money handed over to the minor in its entirety when the minor reaches the age of 21. Gift tax liability is controlled by 26 U.S.C. § 2503. 2503(b) states that in order to qualify for the gift tax exclusion the giftor (person giving the gift) must convey a present interest. Subsection (c) states that if the recipient is a minor, the giftor can put the money into a trust that will convey the money to the minor when they are 21 years old and it will still be considered a present interest for purposes of gift tax liability. So, if you want to give $14,000 to a trust for a minor, with the intention that the minor not withdrawal all of the monies accumulated when they reach 21, so that they may obtain the benefit of compound interest and allow the $14,000 to grow even more, the Crummey trust is the right tool.

While the Crummey trust may have a strange sounding name, it comes from the name of the person who first created such trust, D. Clifford Crummey, and the resulting Tax Court opinion of 1966. It works by gifting a certain sum of money to a trust as a gift, with the right of immediate withdrawal from the trust by the recipient, with the expectation that the recipient will not withdrawal the money or liquidate the asset from the trust. The law recognizes the right to immediate withdrawal, not actual realization of the present interest as satisfying the present interest requirement under 2503. This right of withdrawal for a limited period of time is called the Crummey power. In 1999, the IRS issued a letter ruling on the Crummey trust and outlined the four criteria to qualify as a Crummey trust.

NAMING A TRUST AS AN IRA BENEFICIARY IN YOUR WILL

Recently this blog touched on some of the issues related to leaving an individual retirement account to your heirs in a will, as found here. There are many options that people have to leave their IRA to others in a will. If you are leaving your IRA to heirs in your will but want to also put some protections in place regarding that IRA, leaving the IRA to a trust may be the best option. You may want to leave the IRA to a minor or to insure that the benefits of your IRA are not able to be attached by creditors. Even if your intended heir is not in need of spendthrift protections, there may still be a need to protect the IRA (and other money or property in the will) from creditors of the heir just the same.

While inherited property is generally excluded from equitable distribution in a divorce, it can still be considered income for purposes of alimony. Certain protections in the form of allowing a trustee to cut off the flow of money from the trust will insure that the beneficiary will not have to worry about this issue. Trusts are very flexible, which can allow you to build certain protections into the trust, such as choosing the trustee and giving them a free hand on distributions. If you leave the money to your heir in a will, unless the heir is a minor, in which case you will likely leave the money to a guardian, you have limited ability to insure that there will be protections put into place, since a will passes property or money outright, while a trust insures that there will be rules in place to protect the distribution of that money or liquidation of the property.

LEGALLY DELICATE AREA OF THE LAW

This blog explored the topic of gun trusts in the past and it is high time to reexamine the matter in some more detail. While it is probably true that most people with a fairly sizable gun collection are hunters and gun enthusiasts, that is certainly not the only class of firearm collectors. History buffs and historical reenactors collect also amass a large collection of firearms. They often loan these items to museums or traveling exhibits rather than use them for hunting or skeet or target shooting.

Many times these rifles hold a lot of sentimental value as it may have been through the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima or have some similar family value. Possessing a firearm, whether it is a historical piece from the Revolutionary War or a hunting rifle, can be a federal as well as a state felony if the transfer is not properly documented or held by a certain class of individuals. In either event, however, the government creates laws regulating the transfer and ownership of firearms. New York has the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE Act), while the federal government has the US Gun Control Act as well as the National Firearms Act, which is actually part of the tax code.

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