As a result of the low interest rate environment, some families may have a federal estate tax problem and need planning to reduce their tax liability. A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, known as a GRAT, is one type of planning strategy, as described in the article “Estate planning with grantor retained annuity trust” from This Week Community News.
What is a GRAT? It is a technique where an individual creates an irrevocable trust and transfers assets into the trust to benefit children or other beneficiaries. However, unlike other irrevocable trusts, the grantor retains an annuity interest for a number of years.
Here’s an example. Let’s say a person owns stock of a closely held business worth $800,000. Their estate planning attorney creates a ten-year GRAT for them. The person transfers preferably non-voting stock in the closely held business to the GRAT, in exchange for the GRAT paying the person an annuity amount to the individual who established the GRAT for ten years.
The annuity amount means the GRAT pays the individual a set percentage of the amount of the initial assets contributed to the GRAT over the course of the ten-year period.
Let’s say the percentage is a straight ten percent payout every year. The amount paid to the individual would be $80,000. At the end of the five-year period, the grantor would have already received an amount back equal to the entire amount of the initial transfer of assets to the GRAT, plus interest.
At the end of the ten-year term, the asset in the trust transfers to the individual’s beneficiaries. If the GRAT has grown greater than 1%, then the beneficiaries also receive the growth. The GRAT makes the annuity payment with the distribution of earnings received from the closely held business, which is likely to be an S-Corp or a limited liability company taxed as a partnership. Assuming the distribution received is greater than the annuity payment, the GRAT uses cash assets to make the annuity payment. For the planning to work, the business must make enough distributions to the GRAT for it to make the annuity payment, or the GRAT has to return stock to the individual who established the GRAT.
There are pitfalls. If the individual dies before the term of the GRAT ends, the entire value of the assets is includable in the estate’s assets and the technique will not have achieved any tax benefits.
If the plan works, however, the stock and all of the growth of the stock will have been successfully removed out of the individual’s estate and the family could save as much as 40% of the value of the stock, or $320,000, using the example above.
It is possible to structure the entire transaction, so there is no gift tax consequence to the grantor. If the person is concerned about estate taxes or the possible change in the federal estate tax exemption, which is due to sunset in 2026, then a GRAT could be an excellent part of an estate plan. When the current estate tax exemption ends, it may return from $11.58 million to $5 or $6 million. It could even be lower than that, depending on political and financial circumstances. Planning now for changes in the future is something to consider and discuss with your estate planning attorney.
Reference: This Week Community News (Sep. 6, 2020) “Estate planning with grantor retained annuity trust”