Power up your trust with Crummey powers

The unified gift and estate tax exemption is set at an inflation-adjusted $12.06 million for 2022, up from $11.7 million for 2021. This means that for many families, the estate tax liability isn’t a factor. However, the annual gift tax exclusion is an important estate planning strategy for others, especially since future tax law changes could lower the gift and estate tax exemption. For this reason, using a Crummey trust in your estate plan remains an important estate planning strategy. Here’s why.

Using the annual exclusion

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can give gifts to each recipient, valued up to a specific limit, without incurring any gift tax. The limit for 2022 is $16,000 per recipient. (This amount is indexed for inflation, but only in $1,000 increments.)

Therefore, if you have, for example, three adult children and seven grandchildren, you can give each one $16,000 this year, for a total of $160,000, and pay zero gift tax. The exclusion is per donor, meaning that for a married couple, the amount is doubled.

However, if you give outright gifts, you run the risk that the money or property could be squandered, especially if the recipient is young or irresponsible. Alternatively, you can transfer assets to a trust and name a child as a beneficiary. The designated trustee manages the assets with this setup until the child reaches a specified age.

But there’s a catch. To qualify for the annual exclusion, a gift must be a transfer of a “present interest.” This is defined as an unrestricted right to the immediate use, possession, or enjoyment of the property or its income. Without certain provisions in the trust language, a gift to the trust doesn’t qualify as a present interest gift. Instead, it’s treated as a “future interest” gift that’s not eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion.

Giving Crummey powers to a trust

This is where a Crummey trust can come to the rescue. It satisfies the rules for gifts of a present interest without requiring the trustee to distribute the assets to the beneficiary.

Typically, periodic contributions of assets to the trust are coordinated with an immediate power giving the beneficiary the right to withdraw the contribution for a limited time. However, the expectation of the donor is that the power won’t be exercised. (The trust document cannot expressly provide this.)

As a result, the beneficiary’s limited withdrawal right allows the gift to the trust to be treated as a gift of a present interest. Thus, it qualifies for the annual gift tax exclusion. Note that it’s the existence of the legal power — not the exercise of it — that determines the tax outcome.

Avoiding pitfalls

To pass muster with the IRS, the beneficiary must be given actual notice of the withdrawal right and a reasonable period to exercise it. Generally, at least 30 days is required. Contact us with additional questions regarding the use of a Crummey trust.

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Estate Planning