Asset protection has become a common goal of estate planning. Asset protection trusts come in many different forms and can be used to protect property for your use and benefit as well as for the use and benefit of your family.
What is An Asset Protection Trust?
An asset protection trust is a special type of irrevocable trust in which the trust funds are held and invested by the Trustee and are only distributed on a discretionary basis. The purpose of an asset protection trust is to keep the trust funds safe and secure for the benefit of the beneficiaries instead of having the funds be an available resource to pay a beneficiary’s debts.
Asset Protection Trusts Equal Inheritance Protection
Leaving an inheritance outright to your child or grandchild without any strings attached is risky in this day and age of high divorce rates, lawsuits, and bankruptcies. Aside from this, your beneficiaries may not have developed the financial skills necessary to manage their inheritance over the long run. There is also the very real risk that an outright inheritance left to your spouse will end up in the hands of a new spouse instead of in the hands of your children or grandchildren. Finally, a beneficiary may be born with a disability or develop one later in life that will end up rapidly depleting their inheritance to pay for medical and other bills.
There are a number of different types of asset protection trusts that you can establish to insure your hard earned money is used only for the benefit of your family:
o Trusts for minor beneficiaries – Minor beneficiaries cannot legally accept an inheritance, so a discretionary trust for a minor is a necessity.
o Trusts for adult beneficiaries – Adult beneficiaries who are not good with managing money, are in a lawsuit-prone profession, have an overreaching spouse, or have an addiction problem will benefit from a lifetime discretionary trust.
o Trusts for surviving spouses – If you are worried that your spouse will not be able to manage their inheritance, will remarry, or will need nursing home care, you can require your spouse’s inheritance to be held in a lifetime discretionary trust.
o Trusts for disabled beneficiaries – Disabled beneficiaries who receive an inheritance outright run the risk of losing government benefits and will need to spend down the funds to re-qualify, but an inheritance left to a special needs trust can be used to supplement, not replace, government assistance.
Drafting an Asset Protection Trust Your Way
Asset protection trusts designed for inheritance protection can be as rigid or as flexible as you choose. For example, a beneficiary can be added as a co-trustee at a certain age or after the beneficiary reaches a specific goal such as graduating from college. Another option is to name a corporate trustee, such a bank or trust company, but give the beneficiary the right to remove and replace the corporate trustee with another one.
You can also make trust distributions as limited or as broad as you choose. For example, you can state that the funds can only be used to pay medical bills or for education, or the Trustee can be given broad discretion to make distributions in the best interests of the beneficiary. You may also want to require the Trustee to take into consideration the beneficiary’s income and other assets before making distributions. Alternatively, the Trustee can be given the authority to deplete the trust for one of the beneficiaries to the detriment of the remainder beneficiaries. If there are multiple beneficiaries, such as a trust for the benefit of your spouse and your children, the Trustee can be directed to give preferential treatment to one or more beneficiaries over the others.
The Bottom Line on Asset Protection Trusts
Asset protection trusts offer a great deal of planning opportunities for people of even modest means. We are available to answer your questions about asset protection trusts and help you integrate this type of planning into your estate plan.