- February 24, 2024
Spousal Lifetime/Limited Access Trust (SLAT): A SLAT is an irrevocable trust established by someone for the benefit of his or her spouse. The general concept is that the gifted SLAT funds remain available for the spouse (and possibly children) during the spouse's lifetime. A SLAT is structured so that it does not qualify for the marital deduction; thus it utilizes the transferor spouse's exemption. During the beneficiary spouse's lifetime, the beneficiary spouse retains use of the funds. When the beneficiary spouse dies, however, such access is lost, and the trust assets are distributed or held in further trust for designated beneficiaries.
Many people like to maximize this strategy by having both spouses create SLATs for the benefit of each other. This is permitted; however, such SLATs must be carefully structured to include enough differences so as not to be deemed reciprocal trusts.
Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT): A GRAT is an irrevocable trust that is established for a specific term of years. During the term, the grantor retains the right to receive an annual payment from the trust. The term of the GRAT and the amount of the payment can be modified based on how much of the exemption the grantor wishes to utilize. As long as the assets in the GRAT appreciate greater than the Section 7520 rate (currently only 0.4 percent), then there will be assets that can pass to beneficiaries tax-free at the end of the term. A grantor who wishes to utilize a larger portion of his or her exemption through a GRAT would reduce the size of the annual payment that comes back during the term of the GRAT.
Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT): A QPRT is an irrevocable trust funded with the grantor’s personal residence (or secondary home) in which the grantor retains the right to use the residence for a term of years. Upon the expiration of such term (if the grantor survives the term), the ownership of the property will pass to the remainder beneficiaries, either outright or subject to continuing trust.
The establishment of a QPRT will be deemed a taxable gift of the remainder interest to the trust beneficiaries. The value of the taxable gift will be the overall fair market value of the transferred property reduced by the value of the retained interest (i.e., the term of years selected). This allows the grantor to transfer the full value of the residence using only the exemption equal to the value of the remainder interest. After the term of the QPRT ends, the grantor may lease the property back from the remainder beneficiaries for fair market value.
The federal income tax consequences of the aforementioned trusts should also be considered. Each of the trusts, at least for a period of time, is structured as a “grantor trust,” which means that the grantor is taxed on all the income earned by the trust during such time period. This may be beneficial because the income taxes paid by the grantor serve as an additional transfer of wealth to the beneficiaries, free of transfer tax. Another important income tax consequence is that when a gift is made during life, the recipient of the gift receives a “transferred basis” in the asset. This means that the recipient of the gifted asset has the same basis in the asset that the transferor held. Alternatively, if an asset is transferred upon death, the recipient’s basis would be adjusted to the asset’s fair market value, which is generally more desirable for income tax purposes. Therefore, the specific assets utilized for any gifting strategy must be carefully considered.
This is not an exhaustive list of options. For example, those who do not care to retain any interest in the gifted assets can continue to utilize outright gifting directly to a beneficiary or to a trust for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. The gifted assets could consist of closely held business interests, which might qualify for a valuation discount. If you have previously loaned money to a beneficiary, you might consider forgiving the note and thereby triggering a gift. Some clients are also looking to refinance existing loans at lower current applicable rates. You should speak with your estate planning attorney to determine which techniques are appropriate for you. There are a multitude of options, depending on your intent, family structure, asset holdings, and market outlook.
Jeff is a board certified wills, trusts, and estates attorney and leader of Williams Parker’s Estate Planning, Business Succession, Estate & Trust Administration practice.