Trusts are a diverse group of estate planning instruments that can benefit individuals with small nest eggs and individuals with high levels of wealth, which is why they are always considered in comprehensive estate planning.
For more affluent families, dynasty trusts — when properly drafted — can help secure wealth for generations without subjecting that wealth to gift tax, generation-skipping taxes, or estate taxes.
How Does a Dynasty Trust Work?
Dynasty trusts are irrevocable trusts that extend from one generation to the next.
Here’s how a dynasty trust typically works: A grantor transfers wealth into a dynasty trust. Upon their death, the dynasty trust is divided into sub-trusts, each to support a named beneficiary, usually the grantor’s children. Upon the beneficiaries’ deaths, those sub-trusts are divided once more into separate trusts to benefit the grantor’s grandchildren. Depending on the state, this could continue for generations, until the trust’s principal is depleted.
Dynasty trusts are intended for long-term wealth planning. State governments limit the number of years a trust can exist, but most jurisdictions allow trusts to persist over many decades. For example, in Nevada, a dynasty trust can last up to 365 years, and in Utah, a trust can exist for up to 1,000 years.
As trust assets produce income, the trust typically distributes this income to designated beneficiaries. Any distribution of ordinary income (interest, dividends, rents, royalties, etc.) will be passed through to the trust beneficiaries. In most trusts, capital gain income will be taxed to the trust.
How Do You Create a Dynasty Trust?
The mechanics of your specific trust will depend on your state, but you’ll need to do four main things:
1. Draft the trust document.
Meet with your estate planning professionals to discuss your goals and consider how this trust fits into your overall estate plan. Work with your attorney to craft a trust instrument that is concise, articulates your objectives, and considers contingencies.
2. Fund the trust.
Dynasty trusts can be funded with almost any asset, but they tend to be made up of life insurance, business interests, securities, and real estate. You can fund a dynasty trust during your lifetime or upon your death. In 2022, because the estate tax exemption is at its highest in history, you can transfer up to $12.06 million (or $24.12 million if you’re married) into your trust without paying gift taxes.
It is particularly important to note that the lifetime exemption for all transfer taxes for 2022 is $12.06 million. This threshold applies to estate tax, gift tax, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax. Under current tax law, this exemption threshold is set to sunset on December 31, 2025. On January 1, 2026, the exemption thresholds for all transfer taxes will revert to $5 million. When adjusted for inflation, the 2026 exemption amount is expected to be about $6 million per person.
3. Select your beneficiaries.
You can name specific beneficiaries (like your children and grandchildren), or depending on the state, you may be able to assign benefits to unnamed beneficiaries, like descendants of your grandchildren who haven’t yet been born.
4. Determine how the funds will be distributed.
Dynasty trusts are irrevocable, so determining how your trust will operate is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Because the future is unpredictable, many dynasty trusts are written to consider unforeseen contingencies. This gives your trustee more control over how and when they can use those funds to benefit the trust beneficiaries. The dynasty trust often outlines circumstances and stipulations in the trust that allow the grantor to control when and under what conditions beneficiaries have access to trust income and principal.
You want your trust to be broad enough to take into account the uncertainties of the future, but specific enough to discourage any beneficiary from bringing a legal challenge to the terms and interpretations of the trust. A good estate attorney can help ensure your trust will perform as intended for future generations. It can be incredibly rewarding to know that your legacy will endure in meaningful ways, such that future generations will long remember your generosity and thoughtful planning.
What Are the Benefits of a Dynasty Trust?
Dynasty trusts protect your assets from creditors.
A dynasty trust is irrevocable; once it is created, it acts as its own legal entity. Because you have no control over the trust funds, your wealth will be shielded from your creditors. If the trust is drafted correctly, the trust funds will also be protected from your beneficiaries’ creditors.
Dynasty trusts can be drafted to escape or mitigate gift and estate taxes.
If you fund your dynasty trust by using your lifetime gift tax exemption, the assets in your trust will not be subject to gift or estate taxes at the time of your death.
Dynasty trusts can also be drafted to avoid or mitigate GST tax.
GST tax is a wealth transfer tax imposed on asset transfers to a beneficiary who is two generations below the grantor, or 37.5 years younger than the grantor. This tax is 40% on the value of the transfer if the transfer amount is above the lifetime GST exemption amount ($12.06 million in 2022). Your planning professionals will explain the strategies on how to avoid this significant tax.
Dynasty trusts can be drafted to give beneficiaries as much or as little leeway as you’d like, but once the trust document is drafted, those terms are very difficult (sometimes impossible) to change. So before implementing a dynasty trust as part of your estate plan, talk to an estate attorney and your tax advisor to see if a dynasty trust is a good fit for you and your family’s estate planning goals.
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