It's official: A type of trust used by the wealthy to shelter assets from estate taxes for hundreds of years, or even forever, is under fire.
The proposal, which first appeared a few weeks ago on a hit list of estate provisions in President Obama's 2012 budget, would limit tax-free "dynasty trusts" to 90 years.
The chances of passage are practically zero this year, say experts. But taxpayers should know that the idea is in play—and act accordingly. As proposed, the change would apply to new trusts or additions of money to existing ones, but not to those already funded.
Bottom line: If you are considering setting up a dynasty trust, move swiftly. ...
Dynasty trusts have gathered steam since the 1986 tax overhaul installed the current version of the "generation-skipping tax." This levy imposes taxes that would be avoided if taxpayers left assets to heirs who are more than one generation below. ... Dynasty trusts push [the] generation-skipping tax exemption to the max, putting the exempted amount beyond the reach of estate taxes for the life of the trust. That, in turn, means the heirs don't have to "spend" their own exemptions on those assets. These trusts are now allowed in 23 states and the District of Columbia (see table), to the delight of companies that charge fees to manage them. Taxpayers don't have to live in a state to put a trust there.
To enable these trusts, most of the states allowing them had to get rid of an old common-law principle called the "rule against perpetuities," which allowed trusts to exist only for about 90 years. The Obama administration proposal would reinstate this old principle in a way by removing the federal tax exemption after 90 years. So the trust can go on indefinitely, but the exemption can't....
Opponents of dynasty trusts often object to them on policy grounds. Prof. Ray Madoff of Boston College Law School fears they will help create a new aristocracy with access to tax-free, creditor-proof wealth. She also worries they benefit bankers as much as families: "Bankers are using these trusts as a decoy to line their own pockets."
States That Allow Dynasty Trusts: Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming