(Note: Originally published on October 7, 2014)
Does Your Revocable Living Trust Reduce Your Estate Tax Bill?
Many people believe that once they set up and fund a revocable living trust, property held in the trust will avoid estate taxes after they die. In reality, this may or may not be true depending on your choice of beneficiaries and the terms written into your trust agreement.
Single Trustmakers and Estate Taxes
If you’re single and you create and fund a revocable living trust, all of your assets held in the trust will be subject to estate taxes after you die if your beneficiaries are individuals. In other words, if your beneficiaries are your children, your brothers and sisters, or your nieces and nephews, then the property they inherit through the trust will be included in your taxable estate.
On the other hand, if you’re single and you create and fund a revocable living trust and name one or more charitable organizations and no individuals as the beneficiaries, then the property distributed to the charities through the trust will pass free from estate taxes.
What if you’re single and you name both individuals and charities as beneficiaries of your trust after you die? The portion of the trust property passing to the individual beneficiaries will be subject to estate taxes and the portion passing to the charities will be distributed free from estate taxes.
Married Trustmakers and Estate Taxes
If you’re married and you create and fund a revocable living trust and all of the assets held in your trust pass to your spouse after you die, then the property passing to your spouse through the trust will not be subject to estate taxes. This is true if the assets pass outright to your spouse or through the traditional “AB Trust” estate tax planning since the AB Trust strategy is designed to delay estate taxes until after both you and your spouse are gone.
On the other hand, if you’re married and you create and fund a revocable living trust and you name both your spouse and your children as the beneficiaries after you die, the portion of the trust passing to your spouse will be exempt from estate taxes and the portion passing to your children will be subject to estate taxes. If you include one or more charitable organizations as beneficiaries, then the portion passing to the charities will be distributed free from estate taxes.
Do You Need a Revocable Living Trust?
If a revocable living trust in and of itself does nothing to reduce your estate tax bill, then why should you consider setting one up? For three reasons:
- To avoid probate – Assets held in your revocable living trust at the time of your death will avoid probate. Depending on your state of residence at the time of your death, this could save thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.
- To plan for mental incapacity – If you become incapacitated, the disability trustee you name in your revocable living trust will be able to manage the trust assets for your benefit without the need for a court-supervised guardianship. Like avoiding probate, removing the need for a court-supervised guardianship could save thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs, depending on your state of residence.
- To keep your final wishes private – A revocable living trust is a private agreement that remains private after you die.
Final Thoughts on Revocable Living Trusts and Estate Taxes
For many people a revocable living trust is the ideal way to organize their final affairs. For married couples, aside from offering the benefits listed above, their revocable living trusts can be drafted to include AB Trust planning, which will delay the payment of estate taxes until after both spouses die. For single people, while a revocable living trust will provide them with the benefits listed above, they will need to take additional steps such as gifting strategies and charitable planning to minimize their estate tax bill.
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