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Trust planning is an area where the work of attorneys and financial advisors interfaces. It can be a powerful and effective tool in helping both disciplines to grow their practices.
In this issue of The Wealth Counselor, we will look at how estate planning is changing after TRUIRJCA 2010, what clients want in estate planning, and how incorporating trust planning will benefit clients, their families and the professional advisors who serve them.
Is There a Crisis in Estate Planning?
The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (TRUIRJCA 2010), which the President signed on December 17, 2010, has had a major impact on estate planning.
TRUIRJCA 2010 increased the applicable exclusion amount to $5 million, made it portable for the first time, adjusts it for inflation starting after 2011, set the maximum estate tax rate at 35%, and restored the gift tax exemption at $5 million – but all only through 2012.
The result is that most families don’t have an estate tax problem, at least not for now. Few families have net estates of more than $5 million; even fewer married couples have combined net estates of more than $10 million. This is causing a crisis for professionals who have promoted estate tax avoidance as the primary reason to do estate planning. Insurance advisors who for years have sold policies to fund estate tax liabilities are now finding fewer buyers for their products. Lawyers who have always sold planning as a way to pass wealth on instead of paying it to Uncle Sam are floundering.
The Danger and Opportunity Before Us
The danger is real. Prospective clients may think there is no need for them to plan because they are exempt from the estate tax, at least for now. They may be lulled into a false confidence that the estate tax does not affect them, when in reality it may in the near future. They may be forgetting that the current tax law is only a two-year deal that Congress made, and the law will change in 2013, or possibly sooner. Or they may be foolishly using “waiting to see what the Congress will do” as an excuse to postpone their planning.
The opportunity is real, too. As estate planners, we need to give up the “addiction” of relying on the estate tax as a primary business driver. We need to re-think our approach and remember why we became estate planners in the first place.
While some may view the new tax law as an end to estate planning as we know it, we can also see it as an opportunity to finally focus on what our clients really want.
What Clients Really Want
Essentially, clients want the same things we all want:
For Themselves — Protection and Control. They want control over their assets and health care decisions. They want financial security. They want to be protected from the risks of life, which include lawsuits, disability and the cost of long-term care. Most have some philanthropic goals.
For Their Surviving Spouse — Financial Security. They want to know that their hard-earned assets will not pass to a new spouse. And they want the surviving spouse protected from taxes, primarily from income tax.
For Their Children and Grandchildren — An Education and Financial Security, including Asset Protection from Immaturity, Divorce and Lawsuits. A big motivator for planning can be protecting assets from gift, estate and income taxes for as long as possible, even for several generations. They want their family members to live successful lives that include a work ethic, integrity, faith, and appreciation and respect for family members. Above all, they want their family members to love each other, spend time together and avoid conflict. They do not want them to be harmed by the wealth that is left to them. This is often far more important than tax planning.
For Their Business or Farm — Attract and keep quality talent and have protection from frivolous lawsuits. They want their business or farm to pass to family members who desire to own and operate it, while treating non-participating family members fairly, or they want to sell it to employees or outsiders.
What We Can Provide
These client needs are timeless. No Congress can ever legislate these needs away. Our solutions are also timeless. We need to build our practices around these needs and solutions, instead of having estate tax avoidance be the main need and motivator.
Planning Tip: Think about why you do what you do. People don’t buy what you sell; they buy why you sell it. If you sell a product, they can always find someone who will sell it for less. If your “why” is protecting your clients, their families, their farm or business, etc., they will see that you are putting these needs first.
Five Ideas that Will Get Results…for You and Your Client
The following planning suggestions will work now for most of your clients, and can help you get on the right track in your practice.
Idea #1: Teamwork Produces Better Work
Use a two- to four-meeting process involving other professionals. This will allow you to provide more thoughtful solutions to your client’s needs. It will also allow time for the team of advisors to meet without the client, discuss the situation and possible solutions, and make sure all advisors are on board so that the client hears a consistent message from each advisor. Also, having a team approach over time allows the client to see that recommended financial products (life insurance, annuities, trusts, long-term care insurance, etc.) are part of the total planning solution and not a sales pitch.
Planning Tip: Ask for the name of any other persons the client will consult (friend, CPA, etc.) in making a decision, and get permission to talk with them before making recommendations to the client. Then have those talks and assure all will endorse the plan ahead of time. It will take more time on the front end, but will keep things from being sabotaged by someone you were not even aware of.
Idea #2: Use the $5 Million Gift Tax Exemption Now
We may only have this for a couple of years, but it could disappear even sooner than 2013 as Congress begins to focus on how to raise revenue and cut spending. Discounts may also go away. You can legitimately create a sense of urgency to use this exemption to start moving appreciation out of a potentially taxable estate.
Use the $5 million gift tax exemption to fund a large life insurance policy in an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) that can build up cash value for a supplemental retirement fund or provide an alternative financial investment. A second-to-die policy to pre-fund estate taxes could also be purchased. The $5 million exemption can also be used to fund a GRAT or seed an IDGT sale using LP, LLC or C- or S-corp stock.
Planning Tip: There are two relatively easy ways to give clients access to insurance owned by an ILIT. First, set up the ILIT so that the trustee can make withdrawals or loans from the cash value of the policy and lend the proceeds to the grantor/insured. It can be an interest-only loan during the grantor’s lifetime, with no additional income tax due; at the grantor’s death, the loan can become a debt of the estate. (It must be a credible loan, fully documented, and the grantor must have the means to make the interest payments.) Alternatively, the distributions can be made to the insured’s spouse, on the assumption that they will stay married and the spouse will “share” the proceeds with the insured.
Planning Tip: Remember that both GRATs and IDGT sales need insurance protection, and insurance is easier to fund with a $5 million gift exemption ($10 million if married). You may even be able to avoid Crummey gifts altogether.
Idea #3: Encourage Clients to Leave Assets in Trust
This is good for your clients, and for your clients’ children and grandchildren. Assets kept in a trust are protected from predators (including the surviving spouse’s next spouse), irresponsible spending, creditors, divorce, etc. Ask your client: “If you could protect the assets, why would you not?”
This is also good for you and for your team of advisors, as it keeps the assets under professional management and establishes a relationship with the next generation. This is an excellent way to protect the financial advisors’ book of business against a very real threat.
Idea #4: Think Differently about Your Client’s IRA and Other Tax Qualified Plans
Most clients want to maximize the stretch out on an IRA, but don’t know how to do it. There’s a way to maximize stretch out, provide long-term divorce and lawsuit protection, and create a large life insurance sale. And it will apply to many families with “average” sized estates and IRAs.
Step 1: Leave the IRA to a stand-alone IRA trust for younger generation family members (children or grandchildren). This will provide the maximum stretch out and protection from divorce and/or creditors. An outside trustee can prevent an early cash out and protect the intended stretch out.
Step 2: Use the required minimum distributions to purchase life insurance on the IRA account holder in an ILIT for the benefit of the surviving spouse. When the account holder dies, the surviving spouse will have lifetime access to the proceeds in the ILIT, tax-free. This can be a much better deal for the surviving spouse than becoming the successor to the IRA. The ILIT design provides for successor beneficiaries if the spouse dies first.
Planning Tip: To make the benefits clear for your client, run projections with the spouse as beneficiary of the IRA and a child/grandchild as the beneficiary. Remind your client that distributions from the IRA will be taxable, while the proceeds from the life insurance in the ILIT will be tax-free.
Planning Tip: For those who are charitably inclined, make a charity or church the beneficiary of the IRA; it will receive the proceeds tax-free. Again, use the required minimum distributions to purchase life insurance on the IRA account holder in an ILIT for the benefit of the surviving spouse.
Idea #5: Use Trusts to Help Clients Create a Non-Financial Legacy
Creating a non-financial legacy helps your clients become more connected to the estate planning process and empowers them. Have them write their motivations for the planning and explain discretionary guidelines. If there is heirloom property that is sentimental or historical, they can provide a handwritten note with a story or significance of the item(s).
Planning Tip: Arrange for family meetings after the trust has been signed. You can have them in person for those who live in the area and/or via Skype for out-of-towners. Talk about the planning that has been done and why. This is good for the beneficiaries, as it brings them into the process and helps them understand the motivations, the planning, and the intended results. It also gives the advisors opportunities to meet and become familiar with the next generation.
While TRUIRJCA 2010 has provided us with challenges and has forced us to re-think our approach to estate planning, it has also freed us to be able to do the estate planning that our clients really want without regard to the need for estate tax avoidance. Trust planning remains an integral and valuable part of estate planning, and is beneficial for the client and the professional team of advisors.
|Revocable Living, Irrevocable Life Insurance, Charitable Lead, and Grantor Retained Annuity – these are trust descriptors that are familiar to estate planning professionals. However, there are many less well-known types of trusts that clients may ask about or benefit from having. Some of those other types of trusts will fill an estate planning need like no other arrangement can. Some arrangements called “trusts” do not fit the traditional trust definition. Still other things called “trusts” are outright shams.
As professionals, we need to know about the lesser-known trusts, when to use them, when to avoid them, and when to warn our clients to get out of them.
In this issue of The Wealth Counselor, we review some trust basics and then provide an introduction to a number of these lesser-known trusts and things called “trusts.”
What Is a Trust?
A trust is a fiduciary relationship between the trustee and the beneficiary and between the trustee and the grantor. It involves two distinct elements of ownership of an asset: 1) legal (transferred by the grantor to the trustee) and 2) beneficial (vested in the beneficiaries to the extent specified in the trust agreement).
Although a trust is a relationship, for IRS purposes, it is treated as an entity. Under the Treasury Regulations, the key distinguishing factor of a trust is that it exists to protect and conserve property for the benefit of beneficiaries “who cannot share in the discharge of this responsibility and, therefore, are not associates in a joint enterprise for the conduct of business for profit.”
Planning Tip: An entity that is not classified as a trust under Treas. Reg. 301.7701-4 is a business entity.
Health and Education Exclusions Trust (HEET): The HEET is a multi-generational or “dynasty” trust. Through a HEET, a wealthy grantor can confer even more benefit on grandchildren and generations beyond than the amount that is exempt from the Generation Skipping Transfer (GST) Tax. The HEET does this by limiting distributions for the benefit of “skip persons” to direct payments of their medical and higher education tuition expenses. A skip person is someone two or more generations younger than the grantor. A HEET also prohibits direct payments to skip persons or for purposes that are not exempted from gift, estate, and GST tax. The HEET must have a least one beneficiary with a substantial present economic interest who is a non-skip-person. Typically, the non-skip beneficiary chosen is a charity so that the HEET can continue in existence for as long as the charity exists.
Planning Tip: A HEET is frequently created by a taxpayer who has already used their GST exemption, has charitable goals and wishes to create an education and health care safety net for future generations.
Delaware Incomplete-gift Non-Grantor (DING) Trust: A DING is a non-grantor self-settled irrevocable trust that gives the grantor creditor protection and avoids state income tax on undistributed ordinary income and capital gains. Delaware was the first state to allow self-settled asset protection trusts. Now, however, DINGs are not limited to Delaware. States where domestic asset protection trusts can be established now include Alaska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
Assets placed in a DING get a step up in basis on the grantor’s death and are included in the grantor’s estate for estate tax purposes. A DING must require the consent of an adverse party for any trust distribution (typically a committee composed of two beneficiaries of the trust other than the grantor).
Rabbi Trust: The first Rabbi Trust was set up for a rabbi; hence, the name. They are used with various nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements for highly compensated executives who wish to defer the receipt of some of their compensation in order to minimize current income taxes. The Rabbi Trust can be revocable or irrevocable and funded or unfunded. A funded Rabbi Trust provides the executive more security; however it must be carefully structured to prevent the employee from being taxed now. The trustee must be an independent third party and the assets must be held separate from the employer’s other funds.
Planning Tip: Assets held in a Rabbi Trust are subject to the claims of the employer’s general creditors, so it is important to use this technique only with a financially solid company. The fact that the executive will be an unsecured creditor of the company should the company become insolvent is not especially reassuring, but is necessary in order to prevent the executive from being taxed currently on the deferred compensation.
Oral Trust: Although trusts are usually written documents, that is not always required. The Uniform Trust Code (UTC) does acknowledge that under certain circumstances a trust may be created orally. However, oral trusts of real property are not permitted in some states. The biggest problems with an oral trust, of course, are interpretation and enforcement. Disputes about the terms or even the very existence of an oral trust are common.
Alimony and Maintenance Trust: These are also called “Section 682” trusts. They are an exception to the general grantor trust rules in that the income paid from these trusts to an ex-spouse under a dissolution or separation decree/agreement will be taxed to the payee (the ex-spouse) and not to the grantor. Typically the trust’s income is paid to the former spouse for a specified term or amount or until the spouse dies. After the former spouse’s interest has ended, the trust can continue for the benefit of the grantor’s designated successor beneficiaries, typically the children.
Planning Tip: An alimony trust may be useful if a business owner cannot or does not want to sell an interest in the family business to make payments to his former spouse or if the business lacks the liquidity to redeem the stock of the former spouse. It can protect the payee in the event the payor should die or become financially insolvent before all payments have been made. Also, the trustee can be a neutral third-party who can act as an intermediary between the former spouses. One downside is that the trust can become under- or over-funded, so care should be taken when drafting the document and funding the trust.
Investment Trust: This trust is used by multiple individuals to pool funds for common investments. One common type of Investment Trust is the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). The trust may provide that beneficial interests in the trust may be bought and sold.
Environmental Remediation Trust: These are established to collect and disburse funds for environmental remediation of an existing waste site when the ultimate cost of remediation is uncertain. They are used in sales of contaminated real property.
Statutory Land Trust: These private non-charitable trusts are used to hold title to real property while keeping the identity of the beneficiary confidential, and are used to maintain privacy in the transfer of real estate (acquisition or sale). They can avoid probate, but do not provide asset protection.
Liquidating Trust: These relate primarily to income tax and bankruptcy. In bankruptcy, they are used to liquidate assets under Chapter 11. Outside bankruptcy, they are used to facilitate a sale.
Voting Trust: These allow voting rights in a business entity to be transferred to a trustee, usually for a specified period of time or for a specific event. They are useful in resolving conflicts of interest, in securing continuity, for corporate reorganization, and in divorce when it is necessary to divide an LLC or corporation owned by a divorcing couple.
Specific Purpose Trusts
Funeral and Cemetery Trust: A funeral trust is an arrangement between the grantor and funeral home or cemetery involving prepayment of funeral expenses. An endowment cemetery trust is a pooled income fund held in the name of the cemetery for ongoing maintenance of cemetery grounds. A service and merchandise cemetery trust, similar to a funeral trust, is for merchandise like a gravesite marker or mausoleum and for burial service.
Pet Trust: Many pet owners want to provide for the continuing care of their pets after their own deaths. As a result, many states have adopted some form of pet trust legislation. It is important to specifically identify the animal the trust is to benefit, especially if the pet is valuable or a large sum of money is involved. Special considerations include: how long the trust will need to last, what kind of care is needed and who will provide it, whether to name a separate trustee to manage funds in addition to a caretaker, successor fiduciaries and caretakers, a sanctuary or shelter of last resort if the pet outlives the caretakers or those named cannot serve, liability insurance for potential damage caused by the pet, a trust protector, and reimbursement of taxes if the payee is subject to additional income taxes. Also consider how much money will be required to fund the trust and what will happen to any funds that remain after the pet has died.
Gun Trust: Federal, state and local firearms laws strictly regulate possession and transfer of certain weapons and bar certain persons from owning or having access to firearms. When an estate has firearms, the executor must be careful to avoid violating these laws. Transferring a weapon to an heir to fulfill a bequest could subject the executor and/or the heir to criminal penalties. Just having a weapon appraised could result in its seizure.
A trust designed specifically for the ownership, transfer and possession of a firearm (known as a gun trust or firearm trust) can avoid some of the rules that regulate such transfers. The trust, which must be carefully drafted to account for the different types of firearms held and comply with firearms laws, establishes a trustee as the owner of the firearms. The trust can name several trustees, each of whom may lawfully possess the weapon without triggering transfer requirements. Once a weapon becomes a trust asset, any beneficiary (including a minor child) may use it.
Marketing Tip: There are four million members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and an estimated 240 million firearms in this country. That means millions of American own guns. Many families also have guns as heirlooms. Providing guns trusts (and pet trusts, for that matter) is an excellent way to reach out to potential clients for estate planning.
Coogan Trust: This is a statutory trust account required in some states to protect a part of the earnings of child actors. It is named after the child actor, Jackie Coogan, who learned on becoming an adult that his parents had saved very little of his earnings.
Totten Trust: This is a pay-on-death account that, until the death of the depositor, is treated as an informal revocable living trust. While living, the depositor may be the grantor, trustee and beneficiary. Upon the depositor’s death, the proceeds in the account will be paid to the beneficiary previously designated on a signature card by the depositor (who can change the designation any time before his/her death).
Planning Tip: If your client has one of these sham trusts, the risk of an IRS audit with accompanying penalties – civil and criminal – is high. They thus provide the advisor an opportunity to un-do a great harm, providing the client is willing.
Most professionals who work with trusts have plenty of “nightmare stories” about trustees chosen by clients for their irrevocable trusts. No doubt this is because trustees are often chosen without careful consideration of the qualifications required.
In this issue of The Wealth Counselor, we will examine who can, who should, and who should not serve as trustee; non-tax and tax factors that should be considered when selecting a trustee; who can, and should, be given the right to remove and replace a trustee; and using a team approach to segregate duties among lay and professional trustees.
Irrevocable trusts are created in two ways:
- A revocable trust becomes irrevocable after the grantor has died.
- An irrevocable trust is established while the grantor is living to save estate taxes (by removing assets from the grantor’s estate) and/or for asset protection or Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) planning.
While a grantor may technically be allowed to serve as the trustee of an irrevocable trust he creates, it is not a good idea at best. That is because if the grantor has any discretion with trust asset distributions, it could lead to inclusion of the trust assets in his estate for tax, Medicaid and other purposes, which could frustrate the trust’s objectives.
Often there is someone the grantor knows who the grantor suggests to be the trustee. Typical choices are the grantor’s spouse, sibling, child, or friend. Any of these may be an acceptable choice from a legal perspective, but may be a poor choice for other reasons. For example, some families would be torn apart if one sibling had to ask another for a distribution.
Left to their own devices, clients trustee appointments will frequently be made (out of ignorance) with little consideration of the qualifications the trustee should have. Likewise, those who agree to be trustees typically have no idea what they are getting into. Non-professional trustees often are overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, find they are dealing with unhappy and unappreciative beneficiaries, and may even wind up being sued by the beneficiaries.
With this in mind, let’s look at some factors (non-tax and tax) that should be considered when selecting a trustee.
Non-Tax Considerations for Selecting a Trustee
Here are some of the characteristics that the client should consider in choosing an individual trustee:
Judgment: Clients typically want their trustee to make the same decisions they would. Someone who shares the grantor’s values, virtues, spending habits and faith is more likely to do this. Also, consider whether the trustee candidate will be aware of his own capabilities and weaknesses. If the trustee candidate does not have accounting or investment experience, would she have the judgment to admit this and engage an appropriate qualified professional?
Availability/Location: Does this trustee candidate have the time required to be a trustee? Will he be available when needed or will work and/or family demands leave too little time for trust responsibilities? Where does the candidate live? If the trustee lives in a place different than the trust situs, different laws may apply. Is living near the beneficiary important?
Longevity: How long will the trustee be needed? Many grantors are most comfortable with friends who share their values and have gained wisdom from life experiences, but someone near the grantor’s age may not live long enough to fulfill the job. A trust established for the grantor’s child will likely need a trustee for many years to come. Thus, for trusts that may last a long time, a corporate trustee is often the preferred choice.
Impartiality: The trustee must be capable of being impartial among the beneficiaries. This is especially difficult to do if the trustee is one of several beneficiaries. Corporate trustees, because they can be impartial, are often chosen to prevent a sibling or relative from being placed in an uncomfortable (and often unfair) position.
Interpersonal Skills: The trustee needs to be able to communicate well and effectively to the beneficiaries and to professionals who may be involved with the trust. Some people may be good record keepers or investors, but lousy at diplomacy or feel intimidated or even be offended if a beneficiary gets an attorney. A good trustee will need to be able to work calmly and well with all involved.
Attention to Detail: Does the trustee understand the serious duties that come with the job and is she willing to be accountable for her actions? Fiduciaries are often thought by the beneficiaries to be guilty until proven innocent. While it may not happen, the trustee should assume he will be sued at some point and keep meticulous records as a ready defense. A trustee who expects to be sued will be much better prepared than one who doesn’t think it will happen and, as a result, does not take the record keeping requirement seriously.
Investment Experience: While it is helpful to have investment experience, the trustee can certainly get by without it, as long as he/she recognizes this is an area for which to secure professional help. Also, if the trustee lives in a place different than the trust situs, different investment laws may apply, making it especially prudent or even essential to seek professional assistance.
Planning Tip: CPAs can make good trustees, but often are unwilling or unable (because of insurance considerations) to serve. Sometimes, the best choice would be a corporate trustee. Seldom will the unguided grantor even think of using a team, which can include both various professionals and friends and family members.
Fees: The non-professional trustee rarely discusses fees with the beneficiaries. Often, family members and friends will not charge a fee for their services out of a sense of family duty or respect for the grantor. But trustees should be paid and, more often than not, an unpaid trustee will eventually come to that conclusion or fail to diligently carry out his duties. From the outset, a trustee should keep close track of time and expenses so that a reasonable fee can be substantiated. Generally, a reasonable fee is what a corporate trustee would charge, so thinking that a non-corporate trustee will do the same necessary work for less is false economy.
Planning Tip: Become knowledgeable about the fees charged by corporate trustees in your area as a guideline. Talk about trustee fees when establishing the trust to avoid problems and misunderstandings later.
Insurance: Anyone serving as a trustee needs to have plenty of insurance (errors and omissions or liability). Some of the laws that govern trustees are absolute standards, so a trustee needs to have adequate insurance for protection in the event of a mistake or an innocent error. The amount of insurance needed can depend on the degree to which a trustee is indemnified. However, legal defense costs in trustee litigation can be very large and are typically borne by the insurer.
Indemnification: This often comes up when family members or friends are serving as trustee. Grantors want to indemnify family members and their friends; they do not want them to be sued. It is possible to reduce or eliminate the prudent investor rule for such trustees. However, indemnification is a two-edged sword because it may result in the non-professional trustee not taking the job seriously.
Planning Tip: A good alternative is to have a family member or friend serve with a corporate fiduciary that is assigned the administrative and investment responsibility. The family member or friend trustee could make or veto discretionary distributions, but having no oversight, administration, or investment obligations would be less likely to be sued if something goes wrong.
Planning Tip: Indemnification might be appropriate in a situation with obvious bad family dynamics, where the siblings are already fighting each other yet the grantor insists on naming one sibling as trustee. In such a situation, your recommendation to name a corporate fiduciary instead should be well documented.
Planning Tip: Waiving the prudent investor rule can also be helpful in other situations, depending on the use of the trust. For example, with the sale of an appreciated asset(s) to a grantor trust, the trustee is usually buying hard-to-value assets (real estate, wholesale business interest) from the client in order to shift future appreciation to the trust and away from the grantor. Rather than starting initially with a corporate fiduciary who is not familiar with the asset or situation, it may be more effective (saving both time and money) to have the initial trustee be someone close to the family who better understands the issues, and then change later to a corporate fiduciary. Waiving the prudent investor rule and providing indemnification for the initial trustee in this situation could make sense.
Planning Tip: Being able to waive all or part of the prudent investor rule when using an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) gives greater latitude and peace of mind to make some of the transactions meet the unique needs of the client. Beware, however, of the risk that the trustee, shielded from liability, may fail to do the appropriate work to make sure that the insurance held in the ILIT is appropriate as markets change.
Note: Florida is considering a statute that would relieve trustees of the duty to review the propriety of investments in life insurance policies, which would, in effect, waive the prudent investor rule for life insurance policies owned by ILITs. This would help to solve the problem of corporate trustees not wanting to serve as the trustee of ILITs due to the obligation to review policies that have not performed very well.
If a purpose of the trust is to remove assets from the grantor’s estate, the grantor cannot have any role in determining who gets distributions or when they occur. However, the grantor can have the power to remove and replace the trustee or to control the investments of the trust. Neither of those will cause estate tax inclusion providing the grantor cannot appoint a trustee who is related or subordinate to the grantor (as would be a brother, employee or someone else who will capitulate to the grantor’s wishes). Interestingly, there is no problem appointing, at the inception of the trust, an initial or successor trustee who is related or subordinate to the grantor.
Planning Tip: It is unclear if a grantor can have the right only to remove a trustee and allow the next named successor trustee to take over. While also unclear, it seems that a grantor can reserve the right to remove and replace someone who is not a fiduciary (for example, a trust protector).
A non-adverse trustee having certain powers may trigger grantor trust rules and cause the grantor to be taxed on the trust’s income. In some instances the client may not want the tax to come back to the grantor and instead want a trust that is a separate tax-paying entity for which the income that is distributed to the beneficiaries is be taxed to the beneficiaries.
Planning Tip: Because the trustee’s identity may affect state income tax as well, you may be able to shift the trust situs to a state with a lower income tax rate. Depending on the trust assets, this could be important as some investments (such as oil and gas) may be taxed significantly higher in some states than in others.
Beneficiary Removal and Replacement of Trustee
This is an area that is customizable for each trust and can help maintain some downstream flexibility. Some grantors may not want the beneficiaries to be able to remove the trustee, especially if the grantor is aware of family quarreling. But if the corporate or individual trustee knows it cannot be replaced there is little need for responsiveness or careful attention to investments. Because there does need to be a way to have the trustee removed if things should deteriorate, the document can include that the trustee can only be removed for cause as determined by the court. On the other end, spendthrifts may want to “trustee shop” until they find one that will do whatever they want, so there will need to be some restraints on when a trustee can be replaced.
There are times when a team can do a better job than a single trustee. Having more than one trustee, even with different duties and responsibilities, can work well for many situations. The trust can benefit from assigning the trustees specific duties based on their strengths and experience. Of course, the fewer people who are involved, the less complicated the administration. Also, disagreements will have to be worked out. If there are two trustees or any even number, deadlocks are possible. With an odd number, a simple majority would be needed. If an agreement cannot be reached, the court can be allowed to intervene as a last resort.
Also, as mentioned earlier, family member trustees can work with professionals as paid advisors instead of as trustees. This would allow the advisors to provide valuable input and insight into both the grantor’s desires and the personalities of the beneficiaries, without being so exposed to possible lawsuits.
Planning Tip: Ethical issues can arise if the attorney represents more than one trustee, so she should be sure to have a waiver of conflict or other plan in place.
Planning Tip: Naming someone as trustee is a nomination. The person named is under no obligation to accept the responsibility when the time comes, and it is not unusual for someone to refuse to serve or to step aside once he understands the duties and responsibilities involved. For this reason, it is important for the trust maker to name several successor trustees and to clearly communicate with each before finalizing the choices. Most drafting attorneys will also recommend naming a corporate trustee as trustee of last resort, especially if no procedure for appointing successors is provided to the beneficiaries, short of going to court.
The Trustee’s Duties and Responsibilities
|– administer the trust
– be loyal
– be impartial
– be prudent
– control and protect trust property
|– collect trust property
– inform and report to beneficiaries
– diversify investments
– keep records and no commingling
– enforce and defend claims
A competent trustee is as important to the success of a trust as its being well-drafted. Naming a favorite family member as trustee may not be the smartest (or kindest) thing the grantor can do. As experienced professionals who have seen the consequences of unwise choices for trustee, we are in a unique position to counsel our clients with their and their beneficiaries’ best interests in mind.