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Friday, December 5, 2014

Dynasty Trusts Explained

I am frequently asked about the best way to transfer wealth to younger generations.  Sometimes people feel that absent having a minor child, a problem child or a special needs child, there is no reason to set up a trust.  Often times they are correct and there is no reason create a trust because the client has very responsible children.

Sometimes though, even if the children are quite responsible, if the client has a lot of money, it may be worthwhile to set up a dynasty trust.  Most trusts are designed so that the trust assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries at staggered ages (e.g., one-half at age 25 and the balance at age 30). On the other hand, a dynasty trust is a trust designed to hold assets for many generations usually without any requirement that the principal ever be distributed. 

Keeping assets in trust has many benefits.  If money is in trust it can be protected from creditors, including an ex-wife or an ex-husband.  Additionally, keeping assets in trust will protect it from estate taxes.  (If you give money to a child upon death, it is taxed, when they die, it is taxed again, and so forth...)  

The grantors of the trust can also control the flow of money out of the trust.  For example, they can allow for an income stream, they can allow for small percentage distributions when their heirs reach certain ages or graduate from college, they can allow invasion for certain expenses or they can simply let the trustee decide when and how to give their heirs money based upon whatever criteria they think is important.  The most common standard is for the health, education, maintenance and support of their heirs.

Another beneficial feature of a dynasty trust is that it can be located anywhere.  Typically, wealthy parents have provided for their children and already have good careers and plenty of their own assets.  If parents simply give more money to their children outright, it will be taxed in the jurisdiction where the children live.  If that state has a high income tax, it could be a drain on the funds.  If trust were created in a place that doesn't have a state income tax, that can save significant assets for future generations.

Almost anyone can be trustee of the dynasty trust other than the Grantor.  The Trustee is the party that manages the money and makes distribution from the trust.  Common choices of trustee include the heirs of the Grantor, a friend or an attorney or a corporate trustee.  If the Trustee is also a beneficiary of the trust, there will have to be restrictions on what the Trustee gives himself (otherwise you lose the tax and asset protection benefits).  Often times a trust is created with substantial flexibility so that an heir can act as trustee with limited invasion, but that heir also can be given the power to hire and fire additional trustees who have much broader discretion to distribute funds.  

A dynasty trust can go on for as long as the Grantor has heirs.  In case something happens to the entire family, most people usually name a charitable remainder beneficiary.  Other features that most good dynasty trusts include are the ability to relocate the trust to another jurisdiction (usually to obtain a more favorable tax rate), the ability to have a separate investment advisor, and the creation of a trust protector to modify terms of the trust in the events facts or circumstances change. 

A dynasty trust can be created during the lifetime of the Grantor (an intervivos trust) or upon his death (as a testamentary trust).  Usually it is better to create the trust during the lifetime of the Grantor because it will offer more flexibility in terms of jurisdiction (where the trust is located).  Jurisdiction is important because some states do not allow a perpetual trust, there is a state income tax in some states, and some states offer better creditor protection than others.  Another benefit to creating a dynasty trust during the lifetime of the Grantor is because the trust can be set up as an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT).

An IDGT is an irrevocable trust created during the Grantor's life that is not includible in the gross estate of the Grantor at the time of his death, but while the Grantor is alive, the income is taxable to the Grantor.  The benefit to this is that the Grantor can pay the taxes on the trust with his own money, allowing the trust to grow at a faster rate.  Essentially, it is like making a tax free gift to the trust in the amount of the tax.

Even if a trust is created during a Grantor's lifetime, it does not have to be funded until the Grantor passes away.  Sometimes a Grantor will want to or need to maintain control over certain assets.  Often, it is best to partially fund the dynasty trust with assets that the Grantor thinks will appreciate substantially in the future and transfer low basis assets that have already highly appreciated to the dynasty trust on death.

Because of the potential that these trusts can go on forever, it should not be set up unless the individuals involved have a fair amount of assets.  Normally I would not recommend it unless the Grantor is planning to fund it with several million dollars.  However, each client's situation is unique. Please contact our attorneys if you think a dynasty trust might be right for you.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Update to Executor's Commissions in NJ

Back in March of 2014, I wrote a lengthy post about how to Calculate an Executor's Commissions in New Jersey.  Frankly, most of the executors I work with don't want a commission.  However, I recently came across an interesting situation where an executor wanted a commission and the decedent had substantial joint survivorship accounts with the executor.

Normally, a survivorship account is not subject to an executor's commission on the theory that the executor doesn't have to do any work with respect to those accounts.  In this situation though, the survivorship accounts were actually convenience accounts.  A convenience account is a type of account that goes to the surviving account holder, primarily to pay bills, but based upon the intent of those involved, the balance of the funds will be disposed of with the rest of the Decedent's estate.  In other words, the money does not legally belong to the surviving joint account holder, it belongs to the estate of the Decedent.

In my situation, even though the money passed to the executor, in his individual capacity, on the death of the decedent, the money will ultimately be processed through the estate's accounts and go to the beneficiaries under the Decedent's Will. Accordingly, the executor CAN take a commission on these joint accounts.  More importantly, this commission is tax deductible for purposes of calculating the New Jersey estate tax.

I had trouble finding legal authority for this position, so I called up the New Jersey Division of Tax, Estate and Inheritance Department, and they confirmed this result.