Trusts can provide significant tax savings while preserving some control over what happens to the transferred assets. Here are some trusts you may want to consider and the estate tax benefits they provide:
Credit shelter trust
Also referred to as a "bypass trust," this is funded at the first spouse's death to take advantage of his or her full estate tax exemption. The trust primarily benefits the children, but the surviving spouse can receive income, and perhaps a portion of principal, during his or her lifetime, and the trust provides some advantages over the exemption portability election.
A qualified domestic trust can allow you and your non-U.S.-citizen spouse to take advantage of the unlimited marital deduction.
A qualified terminable interest property trust passes trust income to your spouse for life, with the remainder of the trust assets passing as you've designated. The trust gives you (not your surviving spouse) control over the final disposition of your property and is often used to protect the interests of children from a previous marriage.
An irrevocable life insurance trust owns one or more policies on your life, and it manages and distributes policy proceeds according to your wishes. An ILIT keeps insurance proceeds, which could otherwise be subject to estate tax, out of your estate (and possibly your spouse's). You aren't allowed to retain any powers over the policy, such as the right to change the beneficiary. The trust can be designed so that it can make a loan to your estate for liquidity needs, such as paying estate tax.
This trust allows you to enjoy both the control of a trust that will transfer assets at a later date and the tax savings of an outright gift. ILITs are often structured as Crummey trusts so that annual exclusion gifts can fund the ILIT's payment of insurance premiums.
GRAT and GRUT
Grantor-retained annuity trusts and grantor-retained unitrusts allow you to give assets to your children today — removing them from your taxable estate at a reduced value for gift tax purposes (provided you survive the trust's term) — while you receive payments back from the trust for a specified term. At the end of the term, the principal may pass to the beneficiaries or remain in the trust. In a GRAT, the income you receive is an annuity based on the assets' value on the date the trust is formed. In a GRUT, the payments are a set percentage of the assets' value as redetermined each year. These trusts may be especially beneficial in a low-interest rate environment like we have today.
A qualified personal residence trust works on the same principle as a GRAT except that, instead of holding assets, the trust holds your home — and, instead of receiving annuity payments, you enjoy the right to live in your home for a set number of years. At the end of the term, your beneficiaries own the home. You may continue to live there if the trustees or owners agree and you pay fair market rent.
The dynasty trust allows assets to skip several generations of taxation. You can fund the trust either during your lifetime by making gifts or at death in the form of bequests. The trust remains in existence from generation to generation. Because the beneficiaries have restrictions on their access to the trust funds, the trust is excluded from their estates. If any of the beneficiaries have a real need for funds, the trust can make distributions to them. If you live in a state that hasn't abolished the rule against perpetuities, special planning is required.