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Even though it may not be top of mind when you’re developing or revising your estate plan, it’s important to consider how bequeathing assets to your family might affect them. Why? Because when your heirs receive their inheritance, it becomes part of their own taxable estates. Giving a loved one permission to create an inheritor’s trust can help avoid this outcome.

How the trust works

In a nutshell, an inheritor’s trust allows your loved one to receive the inheritance in trust, rather than as an outright gift or bequest, thus keeping the assets out of his or her own taxable estate. Having assets pass directly to a trust benefiting an heir not only protects the assets from being included in the heir’s taxable estate, but also shields them from other creditor claims, such as those arising from a lawsuit or a divorce.

Because the trust, rather than your family member, legally owns the inheritance, and because the trust isn’t funded by the heir, the inheritance is protected. For example, if your son is having marital problems and is concerned that his inheritance could one day become community property, establishing an inheritor’s trust can provide asset protection.

The reason is because everything you gift or bequeath to the trust (including growth and income from the trust) is owned by the trust, and therefore can’t be treated as community property. An inheritor’s trust can’t replace a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, but it can provide a significant level of asset protection in the event of divorce.

With an inheritor’s trust, your heirs can also realize wealth building opportunities. If you fund an inheritor’s trust before you die, your loved one can use a portion of the money to, for example, start a new business. A prefunded inheritor’s trust can also own the general partnership interest in a limited partnership or the voting interest in a limited liability company or corporation. If you decide to fund the trust now, your initial gift to the trust can be as little or as much as you like.

Maximize creditor protection

To ensure full asset protection, your heir must set up an inheritor’s trust before he or she receives the inheritance. The trust is drafted so that your heir is the investment trustee, giving him or her power over the trust’s investments.

Your heir then selects an unrelated person — someone whom he or she knows well and trusts — as the distribution trustee. The distribution trustee will have complete discretion over the distribution of principal and income, which ensures that the trust provides creditor protection.

Your loved one should design the trust with the flexibility to remove and change the distribution trustee at any time and make other modifications when necessary, such as when tax laws change. Bear in mind that the unfettered power to remove and replace trustees may jeopardize the creditor protection aspect of the trust. That could result in the inclusion of the trust property in the heir’s taxable estate.

Because it’s your heir, and not you, who sets up the trust, he or she will incur the bulk of the fees, which will vary depending on the trust. In addition, he or she may have to pay annual trustee fees. Your cost, however, should be minimal — only the legal fees to amend your will or living trust to redirect your bequest to the inheritor’s trust.

Your heir should consult an estate planning professional to draft the trust in accordance with federal and state law. This will help avoid potential IRS audits and court challenges — and maximize the asset protection benefits of the trust.

Talk to your heirs first

As you draft or revise your estate plan and consider who to pass your assets to, it’s a good idea to talk to family members first. Determine if they would accept the bequests and then inform them of their option of creating an inheritor’s trust. Turn to your estate planning advisor for help in explaining how the trust works.

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Disclaimer: The THK Legal Blog is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. In no case does the published material constitute an exhaustive legal study, and applicability to a particular situation depends upon an investigation of specific facts. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. All THK blogs are considered advertising material by the Indiana Bar Association.