As Easy as A, B, and C

2011 and 2012 are strange years because the US Congress has made an unprecedented move to eliminate Federal Estate taxes for all but the really privileged few. The threshold level of assets in your gross estate must exceed $5,000,000.00, if you pass away in either of those years, before you will need to pay any Federal Estate Taxes. That being the case, at least for Federal Estate tax purposes, the allure of the Revocable Trust, which was a standby for many middle and upper middle class individuals, has begun to lose its allure.

Briefly described, the Revocable Trust, especially when the person involved took the additional step after signing to put his or her assets into same was a vehicle which gave tax advantages and almost always reduced the expense and frustration of Probate. People used Revocable Trusts to take advantage of the then current Federal Estate tax exemption, which up until 2011 and 2012 was in the $3,000,000 range.

The post is written to express my view that the news of the death of the Revocable Trust as a valuable Estate Planning tool is extremely premature. I frequently recommend to my clients with estates over $1,000,000 that they consider putting Revocable Trusts into place. These are my reasons:

  1. Massachusetts Inheritance Tax starts at $1,000,000. That being said, there is no Inheritance Tax when a husband passes his assets to his wife, or a wife passes her assets to her husband. The tax only impacts people upon the death of the second to die. This follows the pattern utilized in the Federal Estate Tax system exactly. The problem of Massachusetts Inheritance Tax arises upon the death of the surviving spouse. There is no unlimited exemption, and all assets over $1,000,000 will be taxed by Massachusetts. The C Trust capture the credit.
  2. There is another, more practical advantage to the A, B and C Revocable Trust. The Trust can be used as a vehicle to accept the life insurance proceeds of the person who establishes the Trust. You may wonder why this is advantageous. For one thing, many people with younger children have life insurance for their family. The primary beneficiary is almost always the surviving spouse, and that makes perfect sense. What if a couple with adequate life insurance and small children was on a plane headed for California on September 11, 2011? Both spouses perish, and the young children come into a small fortune at the age of 18. My experience tells me that 18 is too young an age for children to have a lot of money. If the life insurance beneficiary is the Revocable Trust, the surviving spouse still gets use of the insurance proceeds, but the children do not get their principal until they are older and more mature.

Drafting an A, B, C Trust is not super-complicated or super expensive. If any of the situations I have described to you apply to your situation, speak to your attorney or trusted advisor about setting up the Trust. You will be doing a lot of people whom you love a wonderful service.


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