The field of estate planning contains many different legal instruments that most people have never heard of, so it can be kind of confusing when you start to do your research. On the other hand, there are some estate planning tools that are commonly used that most people have heard of that exist in some variations. As they say, a little bit of knowledge can sometimes lead to misconceptions, so we would like to clear up the difference between some of the basic terms that are often confused.
Everyone has heard of the last will, which is of course the most commonly used vehicle of asset transfer when a person dies. Many individuals are aware of the fact that there is an alternative to the will that prepares assets for eventual distribution while you are still alive. Since the last will is a vehicle of asset transfer, when some people hear the term "living will" they assume that this must be the way that you prepare assets for distribution while you are alive, but this is not the case.
A living trust is the vehicle of asset transfer that is executed while you are still alive. You can actually serve as both the trustee and the beneficiary while you are living so that you retain full control of the resources. But you name secondary beneficiaries and a successor trustee who will distribute the assets to your beneficiaries upon your death or incapacitation in accordance with your wishes.
The living will, on the other hand, is an advance health care directive. It is used to express your preferences with regard to the medical procedures you would accept and those that that you would prefer to deny in the event of your incapacitation. The matter of being kept alive through the utilization of life support systems is at the core of most living wills.
When you are in a position to leave behind inheritances that can have life changing consequences for your loves ones you have a pleasant problem. You may want to make life easier on your family than they were for you, but at the same time you don't want to adversely impact one's motivation and work ethic.
By the time you have reached your twilight years it is likely that your children have become established in their own right. Leaving an inheritance out right to those who have already made it can be done with confidence. But you may have children with creditor problems or you may have younger children or family members that have not yet established themselves. Also, there could be someone in the family with a substance abuse problem, or an individual with a gambling problem. These factors present special planning considerations as you plan your estate.
One way that these types of concerns can be addressed is through the creation of an incentive trust. These instruments involve the naming of a beneficiary and the appointment of a trustee like other trusts, but there is one key difference. You as the grantor of the trust attach stipulations that must be met before distributions from the trust will be made.
If you have a younger heir these may be educational. You could allow for regular monthly distributions as long as the beneficiary remained a student in good standing. Perhaps you could offer an additional lump sum distribution upon attainment of an advanced degree. There are those who take it a step further and stipulate that the trust will match every dollar that the beneficiary earns on the job once he or she enters the workforce to encourage a strong work ethic.
You can include many variations of conditions that you see fit. Incentive trusts can go a long way toward alleviating concerns that you may have about your beneficiaries. It is important however to keep in mind that too many "strings attached" to an inheritance can result in resentment. Compelled behavior may not always be psychologically beneficial. Still incentive trusts are powerful tools and can be effective motivators in many circumstances.
We have all been involved in situations at various points in our lives when we decided to try to fix something on our own. There are times when you can indeed get out your basic tool kit and get the job done, but there are other instances when you learn an important lesson. As you are engaged in the task you see what is necessary, and then you look in your kit and recognize that you don't have the right tool. Knowing the right tools for each job and having access to them is one of the differences between a professional and a dabbler.
Estate planning is one of those jobs that requires the utilization of the proper tools for each circumstance. The one that we would like to take a look at today is the GRAT or grantor retained annuity trust. These vehicles are useful for gaining estate tax efficiency and gifting appreciating assets free of taxation.
The strategy that is employed to make this happen is called the "zeroed out" GRAT. You fund the trust with appreciable assets like securities, real property, or business interests, appoint a trustee, and name a beneficiary. You also decide on the duration of the trust term and the amount of the annuity payments that you would like to receive out of the trust for the term period.
When you fund the GRAT you remove the assets transferred to the trust from your estate for tax purposes, but the IRS does consider the donation to be a taxable gift. However, the taxable value of the gift is calculated using 120% of the federal midterm rate as it stands during the month the trust is created. So, when you set your annuity payments you want them to equal the total taxable value of the trust according to the IRS' valuation methodology. Because your retained interest is 100% of the taxable value, you owe no gift tax on the contribution into the trust. But, any appreciation that exceeds that valuation passes to your beneficiary at the end of the trust term tax-free.
If you have any questions regarding GRATs or other advanced planning techniques, please do not hesitate to contact our firm at any time.