Monday, December 4, 2017

Irrevocable vs Revocable Trusts, What's the Difference

As we previously discussed, there are different kinds of Trusts that serve different client needs. It is common to have a Living Trust as part of an estate plan because such trusts give the Grantors versatility to adapt their planning as life circumstances change to protect family members and avoid probate. There are other forms of Trusts that provide less flexibility to the Grantor, but they are useful in the right circumstances. Every Living Trust executed as part of an estate plan is revocable (changeable) during lifetime, but at the death of the Grantor becomes an Irrevocable Trust (unchangeable) administered by the Successor Trustee pursuant to the terms set by the Grantor during lifetime. 
This transition from Living to Irrevocable Trust at the death of a Grantor is the most common instance of irrevocable trusts in an estate plan. Generally the terms of the Living Trust provide that at the death of the Grantor no changes may be made to the terms of the trust, and that the successor Trustees have a duty to administer the Trust as a separate legal entity. This duty requires the successor Trustees to apply for a Tax ID number from the IRS, inform the institutions that hold the trust’s assets of the change in status, and provide the Beneficiaries of the trust with sufficient information to allow them to enforce their rights under the trust. The Trustees are charged with following the Grantor’s instructions with respect to administering and distributing assets to trust beneficiaries until the assets of the trust are exhausted or distributed outright to a beneficiary. 
While the “Irrevocable Living Trust” is the most common instance of an irrevocable trust in an estate plan, other forms of irrevocable trusts are available depending upon the need of the client. While clients like the Living Trust because it is changeable, they can control it during lifetime, and they can receive the benefits of the assets in the Living Trust, those benefits can be detrimental in certain tax and printer liability circumstances. Irrevocable trusts are beneficial as part of an estate plan because an irrevocable trust, if properly drafted, is a separate legal entity from the person who created it and therefore is treated differently in a number of respects. If properly drafted, irrevocable trust assets and income are not considered as owned by the Grantor, therefore taxable income is not included in the Grantor’s income nor can creditors up of the Grantor generally reach irrevocable trust assets. The drawbacks of an irrevocable trust generally require that the Grantor cannot be a beneficiary or trustee of an irrevocable trust, prevents the Grantor from changing the terms of the trust and prevents the Grantor from enjoying the benefits of the assets. In addition, income earn by a trust is taxed at a higher rate than that earned by an individual if income is not distributed to beneficiaries.
Even with these downsides, creating an irrevocable trust can address a variety of complex planning circumstances. The Irrevocable Trust can be used to own insurance policies provide cash to pay estate tax on the death of the Grantor, or be used to provide proceeds used to fund a business buyout, while not being includable in the Grantor’s estate. An Irrevocable Trust can also be used to hold funds to care for the needs of children with disabilities and not be subject to the requirement of state agencies that such funds be used in lieu of state funds instead of in addition to any straight funds. A recent change in Michigan law also allows the creation of an irrevocable trust that allows the Grantor to have substantial use of trust assets while shielding those assets from creditors in the event of a lawsuit. These techniques tend to involve individuals with more complex planning situations and significant assets, but can assist in addressing concerns about careers with higher than average liability or to address concerns regarding assets and second marriages. Other sophisticated estate planning strategies also use different types of Irrevocable Trust, but a discussion of these is beyond the scope of this blog.
Care should be taken when considering irrevocable trust strategies because, as with all good planning ideas, some may be taken to a ridiculous and untenable level. While properly executed and administered irrevocable trusts comply with legal provisions, the IRS is always looking for situations where trust are not properly drafted or administered, opening up the client to taxes and penalties Always consult with an attorney experienced in estate planning before signing any documents.
Matt and Al

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