Irrevocable Trust

Should My Estate Plan Include a Trust?

There are as many types of trusts, as there are reasons to have trusts. They all have benefits and drawbacks. What type of trust is best for you? The answer is best discussed in person with an estate planning attorney. However, an article from U.S. News & World Report titled “8 Things to Know About Trusts,” gives a good overview.

Estate Plan
Determining whether your estate plan should include a trust is best done by consulting with an estate planning attorney.

Revocable or Irrevocable? Revocable trusts are usually established for a person (the grantor) during their lifetime, and then pass assets to the named beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The revocable trust allows for a fair amount of flexibility during the grantor’s lifetime. An irrevocable trust is harder to change, and in some cases cannot be changed or amended. Some states do allow the option of “decanting” trusts, that is, pouring over assets from one trust to another. You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure trusts are set up correctly and achieve the goals you want.

Trusts can protect assets. Irrevocable trusts are often used, when a grantor must go into a nursing home and the goal is to protect assets. However, this means that the grantor no longer has access to the money and has fundamentally given it away to the trust. Putting assets into an irrevocable trust is commonly done to preserve assets, when a person will need to become eligible for Medicaid.  The trust must be created and funded five years before applying for benefits. Irrevocable trusts can also be used to obtain veteran’s benefits, if they are asset-based. VA benefits have a three-year look-back period, as compared to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period.

Trusts can’t own retirement accounts. Trusts can own non-retirement bank accounts, life insurance policies, property and securities. However, retirement accounts become taxable immediately, if they are owned by a trust.

Trusts help avoid probate after the grantor’s death. Most people think of trusts for this purpose. Assets in a trust do not pass through probate, which is the process of settling an estate through the courts. Having someone named as a trustee, a trusted family member, friend or a financial institution, means that the assets can be managed for the beneficiaries, if they are not deemed able to manage the assets. Another good part about trusts: you can direct how and when the funds are to be distributed.

Trusts offer privacy. When a will is filed in the courthouse, it becomes part of the public record. Trusts are not, and that keeps assets and distribution plans private. A grantor could put real estate and other personal property into a trust and title of ownership would remain private.

Tax savings. Before the federal estate tax exemptions became so high, people would put assets into trusts to avoid taxation. However, state taxes may still be avoided, if the assets don’t reach state tax levels. You can also transfer funds into an irrevocable trust to transfer it to others, without making it become part of a taxable estate. This is something to discuss in detail with an estate planning attorney.

Irrevocable Trusts can be expensive. If you are considering an irrevocable trust as a means of controlling the cost of an estate, this is not the solution you are looking for. Trusts require careful administration, annual tax filings and other fees. You may also lose the advantage of long-term capital gains by putting assets into trusts, since they are taxed upon withdrawal, and usually based upon current market value. The marginal rates for trust income of all kinds apply at much lower levels, so that the highest marginal taxes will be paid on very low levels of income.

Work with an experienced trusts and estates lawyer. Trusts and their administration can be complex. Seek the help of a trusts and estates attorney, who will be able to factor in tax liability and the impact of the trusts on the rest of your estate plan. Remember that every state has its own laws about trusts. Finally, an estate plan needs to be updated every few years. For example, trusts that were set up for a far lower federal estate tax exemption several years ago are now out of date, and may not work to achieve their intended goal. The laws changes, and the role of trusts also changes.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (March 29, 2019) “8 Things to Know About Trusts”

Can I Revoke an Irrevocable Trust?

A trust can be revocable or irrevocable, says nj.com’s article, “Can an irrevocable trust be revoked?”

Revoke an Irrevocable Trust
In some states you can revoke an irrevocable trust if the revocation complies with the underlying purpose of the trust.

A revocable trust is a living trust that’s created with a written agreement between the person creating the trust (also called the grantor or settlor) and the trustee. That’s the person who will manage the assets in the trust. The person who creates the trust can also name herself as the trustee for her lifetime, and the trust agreement may say that the grantor can revoke or dissolve the trust. That’s why it’s called a revocable trust.

However, with an irrevocable trust, the grantor doesn’t reserve the right to revoke the trust. In effect, once the assets of an irrevocable trust are re-titled and placed in the trust, they belong to the trust beneficiaries, not the grantor. Nonetheless, an irrevocable trust can still be revoked in some situations. The grantor may be able to terminate an irrevocable trust by following the state laws on dissolution. The laws of each state vary in this area. For example, New Jersey has adopted the Uniform Trust Code, which stipulates that an irrevocable trust can be terminated by consent of the trustee and the beneficiaries.

In that state, an irrevocable trust may be terminated by a court, provided that the termination isn’t inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust. Likewise, the Minnesota Trust Code grants probate courts authority to modify non-charitable irrevocable trusts in specific situations. In the Gopher State, there are eight different sets of circumstances in which Minnesota’s probate courts have authority to modify or terminate a noncharitable irrevocable trust.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you have questions about revocable and irrevocable trusts.

Reference: nj.com (March 25, 2019) “Can an irrevocable trust be revoked?”

Can a Revocable Land Trust Shield Assets from Medicaid?

Control of an asset is a key element, when Medicaid considers an individual’s eligibility.

Control of an asset is a key element, when Medicaid considers an individual’s eligibility.

31903821451_e117f0eddd_oA recent article from nj.com, “What revocable land trusts mean to Medicaid eligibility,” starts with what sounds almost like a warning: it’s not easy to protect or hide assets from Medicaid. A revocable land trust won't help to protect an asset from Medicaid's spend down requirements, because a trust that’s revocable can be revoked or terminated at any time by the grantor.

A land trust is a private agreement with the trustee agreeing to hold title to property for the benefit of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. The creator of the trust is called the settlor or trustor. This person is usually the titleholder to the property, before it’s transferred into the trust.

The settlor frequently remains the beneficiary of the trust for his lifetime. In effect, the trustee holds the title to the property and must follow the instructions of the beneficiary. The beneficiary typically has the absolute right to direct and control the trustee and receive all income from the trust. The trust agreement, at the creation of the trust, dictates the relationship between the trustee and beneficiary. As a result, the trustee often has no more power than the settlor gives him. In addition, he doesn’t have any other function, other than to do as the trust deed instructs.

Medicaid sees the assets in a revocable trust as countable because the Medicaid applicant who places the home in the trust she created has total control over the Trustee, and therefore, the assets in the trust.  It means that she can take back the asset at any point in time.

In such a case, Medicaid will deny the application. They’re effectively telling the applicant to sell the home, spend down the assets, and then reapply when they have no more than $2,000 in assets in the applicant's name and in the revocable trust combined.

Assets in an irrevocable trust may, however, be excluded from Medicaid spend down rules, based on the terms of the trust.  Though, even if a home was placed in an irrevocable trust that would exclude it from Medicaid, the transfer to the trust must be completed more than five years, before applying for Medicaid to avoid the five-year lookback and Medicaid penalty provisions.

An experienced estate planning attorney, with current knowledge of Medicaid regulations, will know what trusts or other strategies will work best to enable an individual to become eligible for Medicaid.

Reference: nj.com(April 9, 2018) “What revocable land trusts mean to Medicaid eligibility”

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