Wealth transfer occurs in a number of different ways, and sometimes there are too many choices. How do you decide which strategy to use? Start by educating yourself about some of the fundamentals of lifetime gifting.
Gifting strategies are used to minimize the tax burden on estates and preserve assets, since they promote the transfer of wealth across generations. There are five frequently used lifetime gifting strategies outlined in a recent article from Forbes, “5 Lifetime Gift Strategies For You And Your Family To Consider.” For families with significant assets, these need to be discussed with their estate planning attorney to see how they will fit with the family’s overall estate plan.
A grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT) is an irrevocable trust that can be a good choice, if you want to transfer hard-to-value assets. A GRAT also lets you keep your income stream, divide property interests and make discounted gifts to future generations. With a GRAT, the grantor transfers assets to a trust but maintains a right to an annual income stream, or annuity payment, for a specific period of time. The income stream’s value is deducted from the value of the transferred assets when determining the gift’s full taxable value. Anything left in the GRAT after the annuity period expires, is given to the trust’s beneficiaries without any more gift or estate taxes. However, if the grantor dies before the end of the trust term, the whole value of the trust will be included in the taxable estate (like the trust had never been created). Therefore, you can see how important it can be to carefully choose the term of the trust, so the grantor is likely to live beyond its termination.
A defective grantor trust strategy is one way to benefit from the differences in income and transfer-tax treatments of irrevocable trusts. This can let you transfer the anticipated appreciation of your assets at a reduced gift-tax cost. Here, the grantor transfers property to a trust in exchange for a note that carries a market rate of interest and a balloon payment at the end of the note’s term. In most cases, the grantor and trust are treated as the same entity for income tax purposes, but they are considered separate for transfer tax purposes. This discrepancy allows the grantor to affect a sale to the trust without any capital gain.
Family limited liability entities are complex strategies that can provide many benefits to high net worth families with personal, business and investment assets. They’re flexible, so it makes them particularly attractive, because their governing documents can be changed as family dynamics and family business structures evolve. These entities are frequently used to help families consolidate investments, share income with family members in lower tax brackets, shield assets from lawsuits and create a long-term estate plan. Speak with an estate planning attorney to see if this strategy makes sense for your situation.
A lifetime credit shelter trust can be a wise vehicle, if you want to leverage the increased lifetime gift-tax exemption amount but aren’t yet ready to transfer significant assets. With this trust, the grantor makes a gift to the trust for the benefit of his or her spouse and other family members. Because of the spouse’s rights to the assets in the trust as a beneficiary, the grantor also maintains his or her access indirectly. You can allocate your lifetime exemption while the gifted assets, including any appreciation, stay outside your estate for estate tax purposes. You and your spouse can create lifetime credit shelter trusts, but they can’t be identical.
Another strategy is making an intra-family loan. The tax code lets you make loans to family members at lower rates than commercial lenders, without the loan being considered a gift. You can help your family members financially without incurring more gift tax. The IRS requires that a bona fide creditor relationship with a minimum interest rate be created. This can be a good way to transfer wealth, if the borrowed assets are invested and earn a stronger rate of return than the interest rate on the loan. The interest must also be paid within the family.
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 created a number of changes that caused many families to review their existing estate plans. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate each family’s situation to see which is best suited for their overall goals.
Reference: Forbes (August 5, 2019) “5 Lifetime Gift Strategies For You And Your Family To Consider”