Revocable Living Trust

hoffmankimcolorAs Georgia based attorneys, we are very comfortable with the Will-based Estate plan.  Georgia probate courts are friendly and easy to work with, and Georgia law allows a Testator to waive the requirements of a bond, inventory and reporting to the court.  We cannot overlook the importance of a Revocable Living Trust, however, for those clients with out of state assets or where avoidance of probate is simply a desirable goal.

A Revocable Living Trust is, as its name implies, revocable or amendable at will by the Grantor, and living, which means it is funded and used during the lifetime of the Grantor as opposed to solely at death like a Will.  Generally, the Grantor funds the Living Trust with all of his or her assets, and the Grantor is generally the sole Trustee and the primary beneficiary of the Trust.  Though this all sounds somewhat circular, the Trust provides a very legitimate legal solution:  having the trust own all of your assets means you do not need a legal process to change title to those assets upon your passing.

For states like Florida, the Revocable Living Trust is a common estate planning document simply to avoid the probate process.  There, unlike Georgia, courts require the Personal Representative to post a bond, an inventory of the decedent’s assets must be provided to the court, and various accountings are also required to be filed.  The result is a generally a significantly more expensive and time-consuming probate process than in Georgia.   The Living Trust is not just for Florida residents though.  A Georgia resident owning a vacation condo in Florida will be subject to Florida’s probate process at death.  Thus, not only will the Estate be subject to Georgia probate proceedings, but it will need to file ancillary probate proceedings in Florida too.  This rule is applicable to ownership of assets in any other state, not just Florida, as each individual state has their own laws about transferring title at death.  Having a Living Trust own your out of state assets forecloses the necessity of multiple probate proceedings.

Another significant advantage to the Living Trust based Estate Plan is privacy.  Despite Georgia’s ‘friendly’ probate laws, the original Will must still be filed with the Court and it becomes public record.  This means anyone can review the terms of your Will at death.  In addition, all of your heirs at law are entitled to notice of the filing of the Will and a copy thereof.  For those that prefer their bequests remain private, or who perhaps have made an uneven distribution among their beneficiaries, the Living Trust may be a better choice.  A Living Trust can even help avoid a Will contest where certain heirs may be left out of an inheritance.

Revocable Living Trusts can also be significantly beneficial to a Grantor who becomes incapacitated.  Incapacity proceedings are becoming some of the most common probate court proceedings as people live longer but do not necessarily have all of their faculties.  When you form and fund a Living Trust, you name a successor Trustee to take over management of the Trust assets upon either your death or incapacity, again, entirely skipping the court process for doing so.  This provides a seamless, and immediate, transition of control from you to someone else in the event you can no longer manage your affairs.  And, it is a person of your choosing.  Your Trust document can even be very specific as to who and how you are determined to be incapacitated, thus giving you a great amount of control even where you would no longer have the ability to have such control.

The key to an effective Living Trust is fully funding the trust.  Funding the trust is legally transferring title to all of your assets to the Trustee of the Trust.  There are no tax consequences to such transfer as the trust is revocable, the IRS ‘looks through’ the trust and treats the assets as though they were still yours for income and transfer tax purposes.  Funding is accomplished by changing the title on bank accounts and investment accounts and recording deeds to real property.  Your attorney should go through specific funding instructions with you after a detailed analysis of your assets.

Finally,  a Living Trust will contain all of the testamentary decisions and dispositions of a Will, including trusts as needed for the surviving spouse and descendants, charitable bequests and other gifts you want made upon your passing.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

Irrevocable Trusts

Irrevocable trusts are important and useful tools for estate planning.  An irrevocable trust is a financial arrangement in which the grantor relinquishes ownership and control of some property, assets or other funds and transfers them to the trust. An irrevocable trust cannot be revoked, modified, or terminated by the grantor once created; and, once transferred into the trust, the grantor surrenders rights to those funds or assets.  These transfers to the trusts are considered gifts.

Irrevocable trusts offer many tax advantages. An irrevocable trust permits the grantor to donate assets and other property to be held by the trust for the benefit of named beneficiaries.  The transfers can be made during the grantor’s life in order to take advantage of gift tax benefits, and such transfers can be structured so that they are income tax advantageous as well.  The beneficiaries are entitled to the trust property when and if needed, and the grantor can govern how and when any distributions are made when creating the trust agreement. The trust is a separate entity which may produce income based on the assets it holds.  Depending on the type of trust, it may be considered a separate taxpayer and may owe taxes on any accumulated income or holdings. An irrevocable trust generally receives a deduction from income that is regularly disbursed to the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries will then be responsible for the income taxes related to that income.

Two of the most common irrevocable trusts are 1) those designed to hold life insurance policies outside of an individual’s estate (often referred to as an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, or ILIT) and 2) those designed to remove property from an individual’s estate for later distribution to a charity (often referred to as a CRT, CRAT or CRUT).

1)              Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT):  Here a donor transfers existing life insurance policies, subject to a 3-year transfer rule, or authorizes the trustee to purchase life insurance and hold it in the name of the trust (or trustee).  By having the trust own the insurance policy, the policy amount will not be included in the grantor’s taxable estate upon his or her death.  If designed properly, this type of irrevocable trust may also be used to hold other assets.  Donations made to the trust can be withdrawn by the beneficiaries, subject to the annual exclusion, and the donations, if rejected, can be used to pay the insurance premiums.  Upon the death of the insured, the proceeds of the policy can be distributed to the beneficiaries or used to purchase assets from the estate of the insured and thereby providing cash to be used by the estate.

2)              A Charitable Remainder Trust (either a Unitrust or an Annuity Trust) is used to hold cash and/or property where the donor receives an annuity payment from the trust either for a specific term or for life.  Upon the death of the donor, the remainder interest in the property passes to the charity specified by the donor.

There are numerous types of irrevocable trusts to fit a client’s specific needs.  Give us a call to discuss whether an Irrevocable Trust is right for your situation.

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Asset Protection: You Get What You Pay For

As estate planning, tax and business lawyers, we are always concerned with asset protection.  Whether we are talking in the context of trusts for surviving spouses or descendants, or protecting personal assets from business hiccups, asset protection is at the front of our minds when advising clients.

Asset protection comes in all shapes and sizes, from the simple to the ultra complex. Rules can vary significantly from state to state. Generally speaking, if you want to protect an asset, don’t own it!  Strategies can range from the simple professional who puts his or her home in their spouse’s name.  In debtor oriented states like Florida, it could mean owning that residence jointly as tenancy by the entirety, which protects the property from creditors of each spouse.  Titling property correctly is simple and inexpensive.  Of course, once you have transferred that property to your spouse, it may be difficult to get it back!

Traditionally, businesses have conducted themselves as corporations or similar entities, one reason being to isolate the business activity from other assets owned by the business owner.  For instance, if a corporation were to get a judgment against it, the creditor’s only recourse would be against the assets of the corporation.  The creditor would not be able to reach through the entity and get at the other assets of the owner.  This is one of the reasons that our clients traditionally do business as corporations, LLCs or limited partnerships.  All of these entities have the characteristic of limited liability.

However, if it is the owner who is the subject of a judgment creditor, he can lose his stock in his closely held business.  So, consider placing assets in a limited liability company.  Some jurisdictions (not Georgia) provide that a creditor’s sole remedy, with respect to the LLC ownership by a debtor, is to obtain a charging order.  This remedy permits the creditor to stand in line to receive any distributions from the LLC that would otherwise go to the LLC’s owner (the debtor);  but the creditor cannot take the owner’s membership units or foreclose on ownership interest.  This, of course, is not a popular remedy for creditors.  Creditors would prefer to control the ownership interest in the business, allowing them to sell assets or otherwise liquidate the business in order to satisfy the debt.  Charging orders as a sole remedy are a statutory rule in a number of jurisdictions including Florida (for multiple member LLCs) and Nevada (a jurisdiction we find ourselves using more and more for the clients whose primary motivation is asset protection).

Creating a corporation is more expensive than merely titling assets in the name of your spouse.  Forming an LLC is significantly more expensive than forming a corporation.  Forming an LLC in another state is somewhat more expensive on the front end and annually than forming a Georgia entity.  You get what you pay for.

The next level of asset protection brings us to the area of trusts.  Of course, you can form an irrevocable trust for the benefit of another, and if properly drafted, that trust can own property which is protected from the grantor’s creditors.  However, Georgia does not recognize what are referred to as “self-settled” trusts;  one cannot create a trust for his or her own benefit in Georgia and many other jurisdictions.  There are approximately a dozen states that do recognize some sort of self-settled asset protection trusts that can accommodate the grantor as a possible beneficiary of the trusts.  Again, of the dozen or so states that allow what are referred to as “domestic asset protection trusts”, Nevada would have to be at the top of the list.  Domestic asset protection trusts require an independent trustee, meaning that the grantor cannot be in total control of the trust assets, although total control would not have to be given to the third party. Significant management control could be retained by the grantor if the trust agreement is carefully drafted.  These arrangements are significantly more expensive than forming an LLC for asset protection purposes.  Generally speaking, the more protection one seeks, the more expensive it is to set up the structure and maintain it.

Other trusts provide asset protection characteristics.  For instance, it is possible to create a trust for the benefit of one’s spouse, and the assets in the trust would be protected from not only the grantor’s creditors, but also the spouse’s creditors.  The grantor is entitled, in essence, to control the disposition of the trust upon the demise of the spouse.  Again, this arrangement must be carefully drafted, particularly if husband and wife are creating trusts for each other.  Again, the grantor should not retain total control of the trust’s property, so a third party trustee is highly recommended.  These types of arrangements tend to be more expensive than the domestic asset protection trust.   There are numerous other trust arrangements that offer asset protection; the appropriate choice depends on the actual circumstances and objectives.

Trusts can also be established in foreign jurisdictions where the local laws with respect to taxes, statute of limitations and contracts are very favorable as deterrents to creditors.  Again, offshore trusts have been around for hundreds of years.  Popular jurisdictions include the Cook Islands, Nevis, Bahamas, Cayman Islands and a number of other Caribbean island countries.  These trusts have been romanticized for many years. They are most popular with liquid investment assets. These arrangements tend to be the most expensive types of asset protection devices, so they also tend to be rare.

Finally, no one arrangement is absolutely perfect.  Ownership transfers should occur prior to the time a liability or potential judgment appears.  Creditors’ lawyers can always argue that assets were transferred in an attempt to defraud particular creditors, therefore seeking court intervention or set-aside.  However, prudent and timely planning should always be better than no planning, even if the result is that creditors are more receptive to sitting down to negotiate more favorable terms with our clients.

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.