The Department of the Treasury has released the Treasury Green Book for Fiscal Year 2017, which provides explanations of the President’s budget proposals. One such proposal (remember…these are just proposals, not actual changes in the law) that may affect your estate planning, if passed, is found on page 180 of the Green Book and is re-printed here for your convenience:
MODIFY TRANSFER TAX RULES FOR GRANTOR RETAINED ANNUITY TRUSTS (GRATS) AND OTHER GRANTOR TRUSTS
Section 2702 provides that, if an interest in a trust is transferred to a family member, any interest retained by the grantor is valued at zero for purposes of determining the transfer tax value of the gift to the family member(s). This rule does not apply if the retained interest is a “qualified interest.” A fixed annuity, such as the annuity interest retained by the grantor of a GRAT, is one form of qualified interest, so the value of the gift of the remainder interest in the GRAT is determined by deducting the present value of the retained annuity during the GRAT term from the fair market value of the property contributed to the trust.
Generally, a GRAT is an irrevocable trust funded with assets expected to appreciate in value, in which the grantor retains an annuity interest for a term of years that the grantor expects to survive. At the end of that term, the assets then remaining in the trust are transferred to (or held in further trust for) the beneficiaries. The value of the grantor’s retained annuity is based in part on the applicable Federal rate under section 7520 in effect for the month in which the GRAT is created. Therefore, to the extent the GRAT’s assets appreciate at a rate that exceeds that statutory interest rate, that appreciation will have been transferred, free of gift tax, to the remainder beneficiary or beneficiaries of the GRAT.
If the grantor dies during the GRAT term, the trust assets (at least the portion needed to produce the retained annuity) are included in the grantor’s gross estate for estate tax purposes. To this extent, although the beneficiaries will own the remaining trust assets, the estate tax benefit of creating the GRAT (specifically, the tax-free transfer of the appreciation during the GRAT term in excess of the annuity payments) is not realized.
Another popular method of removing an asset’s future appreciation from one’s gross estate for estate tax purposes, while avoiding transfer and income taxes, is the sale of the asset to a grantor trust of which the seller is the deemed owner for income tax purposes. A grantor trust is a trust, whether revocable or irrevocable, of which an individual is treated as the owner for income tax purposes. Thus, for income tax purposes, a grantor trust is taxed as if the deemed owner had owned the trust assets directly, and the deemed owner and the trust are treated as the same person. This results in transactions between the trust and the deemed owner being ignored for income tax purposes; specifically, no capital gain is recognized when an appreciated asset is sold by the deemed owner to the trust. For transfer tax purposes, however, the trust and the deemed owner are separate persons and, under certain circumstances, the trust is not included in the deemed owner’s gross estate for estate tax purposes at the death of the deemed owner. In this way, the post-sale appreciation has been removed from the deemed owner’s estate for estate tax purposes.
Reasons for Change
GRATs and sales to grantor trusts are used for transferring wealth while minimizing the gift and income tax cost of transfers. In both cases, the greater the post-transaction appreciation, the 181 greater the transfer tax benefit achieved. The gift tax cost of a GRAT often is essentially eliminated by minimizing the term of the GRAT (thus reducing the risk of the grantor’s death during the term), and by retaining an annuity interest significant enough to reduce the gift tax value of the remainder interest to close to zero. In addition, with both GRATs and sales to grantor trusts, future capital gains taxes can be avoided by the grantor’s purchase at fair market value of the appreciated asset from the trust and the subsequent inclusion of that asset in the grantor’s gross estate at death. Under current law, the basis in that asset is then adjusted (in this case, “stepped up”) to its fair market value at the time of the grantor’s death, often at an estate tax cost that has been significantly reduced or entirely eliminated by the grantor’s lifetime exclusion from estate tax.
The proposal would require that a GRAT have a minimum term of ten years and a maximum term of the life expectancy of the annuitant plus ten years to impose some downside risk in the use of a GRAT. The proposal also would include a requirement that the remainder interest in the GRAT at the time the interest is created must have a minimum value equal to the greater of 25 percent of the value of the assets contributed to the GRAT or $500,000 (but not more than the value of the assets contributed). In addition, the proposal would prohibit any decrease in the annuity during the GRAT term, and would prohibit the grantor from engaging in a tax-free exchange of any asset held in the trust.
If a person who is a deemed owner under the grantor trust rules of all or a portion of any other type of trust engages in a transaction with that trust that constitutes a sale, exchange, or comparable transaction that is disregarded for income tax purposes by reason of the person’s treatment as a deemed owner of the trust, then the portion of the trust attributable to the property received by the trust in that transaction (including all retained income therefrom, appreciation thereon, and reinvestments thereof, net of the amount of the consideration received by the person in that transaction) would be subject to estate tax as part of the gross estate of the deemed owner, would be subject to gift tax at any time during the deemed owner’s life when his or her treatment as a deemed owner of the trust is terminated, and would be treated as a gift by the deemed owner to the extent any distribution is made to another person (except in discharge of the deemed owner’s obligation to the distribute) during the life of the deemed owner. The proposal would reduce the amount subject to transfer tax by any portion of that amount that was treated as a prior taxable gift by the deemed owner. The transfer tax imposed by this proposal would be payable from the trust.
The proposal would not change the treatment of any trust that already is includable in the grantor’s gross estate under existing provisions of the Code, including without limitation the following: grantor retained income trusts; grantor retained annuity trusts; personal residence trusts; and qualified personal residence trusts. Similarly, it would not apply to any trust having the exclusive purpose of paying deferred compensation under a nonqualified deferred compensation plan if the assets of such trust are available to satisfy claims of general creditors of the grantor. It also would not apply to any irrevocable trust whose only assets typically consist of one or more life insurance policies on the life of the grantor and/or the grantor’s spouse.
The proposal as applicable to GRATs would apply to GRATs created after the date of enactment. The proposal as applicable to other grantor trusts would be effective with regard to trusts that engage in a described transaction on or after the date of enactment. Regulatory authority would be granted, including the ability to create exceptions to this provision.
Last year’s Green Book Proposal on the same topic can be read here.