Using Trusts to Manage Wealth

Wealthy families across the United States are using trusts to protect and grow their wealth… and pay less taxes. Here’s how you can do the same. 

High-net-worth investors often utilize sophisticated financial strategies to both grow and protect their wealth. One common instrument they use is a trust. 

Trusts can serve various purposes, including reducing estate taxes, protecting assets from creditors, and ensuring that assets are managed and distributed according to the grantor's wishes. 

Increasing Wealth Through Trusts

While trusts are not typically the primary vehicles for growing wealth (compared to, say, investments in stocks, real estate, or businesses), they can play a part in wealth preservation, which can indirectly support wealth growth. Here's how:

  • Tax Efficiency: Certain trusts can help minimize estate and gift taxes, thereby preserving more of an individual's wealth for future generations (More on this below).
  • Compound Growth: By placing assets in a trust and specifying that the income generated by these assets (e.g., dividends or interest) be reinvested, the assets can benefit from compound growth, free from the potential erosion due to estate taxes or creditor claims.
  • Protection from Poor Decision Making: If a beneficiary is not financially savvy, a trust can ensure that the assets are managed by a competent trustee, allowing the wealth to grow more effectively than if it were directly in the hands of the beneficiary.

Protecting Wealth through Trusts

According to a recent UBS Investor Watch Survey, 83% of investors express concerns about the smooth transfer of their assets. To address this concern, having written documents such as wills and living trusts can help you secure the management of your wealth. These documents enable a seamless transfer of assets, protect accumulated wealth, and establish a strong foundation for future generations.

  • Asset Protection: Certain types of trusts can protect assets from creditors, lawsuits, or other potential claimants. For instance, an irrevocable trust, once established and funded, generally removes those assets from the grantor's estate, making them inaccessible to most creditors.
  • Control over Distribution: Trusts allow the grantor to specify how and when assets will be distributed to beneficiaries. This can protect heirs from their own potential mismanagement, creditors, or exploitation. For instance, a trust could be set up to distribute assets only when a beneficiary reaches a certain age or achieves a specific milestone.
  • Privacy: Trusts, depending on the jurisdiction, can offer a level of privacy that owning assets outright or through other entities might not. This can be a form of protection, especially in litigious environments or where high net worth can make individuals targets.
  • Diversification: Trusts can be structured to hold a variety of assets, from real estate to private company shares. This diversification can help shield the wealth within the trust from economic downturns affecting one particular asset class.
  • Estate Planning and Probate Avoidance: Trusts can be a central element of estate planning. By properly titling assets in a trust, the lengthy and potentially costly probate process can be avoided upon the grantor's death. This ensures a smoother transition of assets to heirs and beneficiaries.

Trusts and Tax Efficiency

As we touched upon above, trusts can provide tax efficiency. Investors can reduce their tax liabilities depending on the type of trust used and the jurisdiction it’s been established in. When a trust distributes income to its beneficiaries, the IRS permits the trust to claim a tax deduction. The beneficiary pays the income tax on the amount they receive, not the trust itself.

The money given to beneficiaries first comes from the income generated in the current year and then from the trust's principal (the initial amount of money placed in the trust). Distributions from the principal are not subject to taxation. Any capital gains on the principal may be taxable for the trust or the beneficiary. The amount distributed to the beneficiary is taxable for them, but only up to the deduction claimed by the trust.

To report income earned from the date of the person who established the trust's death, you use Form 1041. Distributions made to trust beneficiaries are reported using Schedule K-1. In 2022 and 2023, the highest tax rate for trusts due to deaths is 37%. To fully harness the tax benefits of trusts, working with a wealth preservation specialist can help you create a tailored strategy that aligns with your financial situation and goals.

Types of Trusts Used by Wealthy Individuals

The two basic trust structures are revocable and irrevocable. However, the world of trusts is not one-size-fits-all. 

"Trusts can address tax and creditor issues, support your family, or donate to a cause you care about. There's a trust to match everyone's needs." - Nic J. McLeod, Owner & Operator of NJM Wealth Preservation Strategies. 

The type of trust you choose should reflect your unique wishes for how your assets are handled now and in the future:

  • Revocable Living Trusts: Allows the grantor to retain control over assets during their lifetime but bypasses probate upon death.
  • Irrevocable Trusts: Often used for asset protection and estate tax planning.
  • Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRT): Allow the grantor to receive an income stream and achieve charitable giving objectives while obtaining a tax deduction.
  • Dynasty Trusts: Designed to pass wealth across multiple generations without incurring estate taxes.
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRT): Used to transfer a personal residence at a reduced gift tax cost.
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRAT): Allows the grantor to transfer asset appreciation to beneficiaries with minimized or no gift tax implications.
Nic concludes, “When you know what you want out of your trust and how you want it to affect future generations, you can work with your Fiduciary advisor to narrow down which trust makes the most sense for you.”

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts

A revocable trust can be changed at any time by the grantor during their lifetime, as long as they are competent. An irrevocable trust usually can't be changed without a court order or the approval of all the trust's beneficiaries.

Our chart below compares the key features and differences of revocable and irrevocable trusts:

Remember, the specific features and benefits of each trust type may vary based on jurisdiction and the specific terms set by the grantor. Consulting with your trusted Fiduciary advisor is crucial when establishing or amending a trust.

What to Consider When Selecting a Trustee

When setting up a trust, selecting the right trustee is crucial. A trustee is responsible for managing the assets held within the trust and distributing them according to the trust's terms and the grantor's wishes. A trustee should be impartial and act solely in the best interests of the beneficiaries. This neutrality helps maintain the integrity of a trust.

Establishing clear guidelines within the trust document is essential to provide the trustee with a roadmap for asset management and distribution. These guidelines should align with your wealth preservation and distribution strategy. Open communication with your trustee is crucial; they fully understand your wishes and preferences.

A reputable wealth preservation firm can assist you in navigating the complexities of setting up a trust. At NJM Wealth Preservation Strategies, our wealth preservation managers can help you analyze your unique circumstances and guide you in structuring your trust so you can achieve your personal and financial goals.

Working With a Wealth Preservation Firm

Incorporating trusts into a wealth management strategy often requires the guidance of financial advisors, attorneys, and other professionals who are highly experienced in estate planning and asset protection. Trust laws can vary significantly between jurisdictions, so it's crucial to work with experts familiar with the specific rules and opportunities in your relevant state and region.

At NJM Wealth Preservation Strategies, we offer investors valuable knowledge and can help optimize your financial strategies when it comes to trusts and estate planning. Whether you want to protect your assets, minimize tax liabilities, or ensure a smooth wealth transition to future generations, partnering with a trusted wealth preservation firm can provide numerous benefits. At NJM, we can help you with the following:

By delegating your trust and estate planning needs to a reputable wealth management firm like NJM Wealth Preservation Strategies, you can know that your financial affairs are in capable hands. 

To Sum Up

Trusts are valuable tools that offer wealth preservation and tax efficiency benefits while protecting your wealth and assets. 

As your dedicated advisors, NJM Wealth Preservation Strategies provide you with ongoing support, helping to ensure your trusts and overall financial plan align with your objectives. Let us help you leverage the power of trusts to secure your financial future for generations to come.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you preserve and grow your wealth for a secure and enjoyable retirement.