Transferring your legacy
Proactive Planning with Low Market Values Using Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts (SLATs)
Much has been written about how market volatility and low asset valuations create an opportunity to efficiently move wealth to children and grandchildren. While those explanations might resonate, not everyone is ready to give away a significant amount of wealth. After all, what if those assets are needed in the future? A strategy that allows the best of both worlds—efficiently transferring wealth, while retaining indirect access to that wealth if needed—is a Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT).
What is a SLAT?
A SLAT is a type of irrevocable trust that includes the grantor’s spouse as a beneficiary and takes advantage of the current gift tax exemption amount. In a typical structure, the grantor makes a transfer to a trust that is for the benefit of the grantor’s spouse and, if desired, the grantor’s descendants. The trustees can distribute income and principal to any of the beneficiaries pursuant to the trust’s terms.
How SLATs Work
As the trust is funded during life, the married couple will be able to take advantage of the gift tax exemption, but also retain access to the trust’s assets through the ability of the grantor’s spouse to receive income and principal distributions. To the extent that trust distributions are not made, both the assets and the appreciation of the assets during both of the spouses’ lifetimes will escape any further gift or estate taxes. This can be enhanced with the allocation of Generation Skipping Transfer tax exemption. Because of the potential use of various transfer tax exemptions, this trust should generally be viewed as a source of last resort for the grantor’s spouse during his or her lifetime.
Taking this strategy a step further, both spouses may wish to create SLATs to provide each of them some access to trust assets. The trusts should not be substantially identical, as the Internal Revenue Service may “look through” identical trusts and find that no gifts were made. The trusts can be created at different times, funded with different amounts and contain different terms. For example, one trust may be for the benefit of a spouse only, and the other for the spouse and descendants. One spouse may have a power of appointment, and another may not. Note: It is critical to work with a qualified professional when structuring such trusts.
Benefits of a SLAT in a Volatile Market
SLATs, like other irrevocable trusts, are an effective way to remove growth on appreciating assets from an estate and pass it down to future generations. When asset values are low, the tax cost of using lifetime gift tax exemption is reduced, so more assets can be transferred or the exemption can be preserved for other uses. Additionally, if the trust is properly drafted, the grantor may be able to swap out assets that have increased in value for assets that are more stable, in order to lock in appreciation during times of market swings and volatility.
Some Other Thoughts
The contents in this article are being provided for educational and informational purposes only. The information and comments are not the views or opinions of Union Bank, its subsidiaries or affiliates.