Forbes’ recent article entitled “How To Pass On Business Assets While Paying As Little In Taxes As Possible” says that one of the first steps you’ll likely undertake in an estate plan is gifting assets so they’re not part of your estate. By gifting assets expected to appreciate over time—like company stock and real estate—into an irrevocable grantor trust and having those assets appreciate outside of your estate, you can reduce your estate tax exposure. Remember: the amount you can gift is restricted to you and your spouse’s combined lifetime federal estate and gift tax exemption ($25,840,000 in 2023).
As the grantor of the irrevocable grantor trust, you’ll be taxed on all income in the trust despite not receiving any of it. However, the payment of taxes from your estate reduces the value of your estate proportionately. Therefore, the assets in the trust can grow unburdened by taxation.
A drawback of gifting appreciating assets into a grantor trust is that the assets will retain the tax basis you, as the grantor, had when you gifted the assets. As the assets are no longer a part of your estate when you die, the assets you transferred to the grantor trust won’t get a step-up in basis to what their value is at that time. Capital gains taxation occurs when the trustee or beneficiary sells the appreciated assets.
Assuming that one of your goals for establishing the trust is to pay as little tax as possible, there are a few ways to avoid capital gains taxes inside a grantor trust.
As the grantor, you have the power to take trust assets back by buying them with cash or replacing them with other assets—low-appreciation ones are ideal. Therefore, if you get a large amount of your employer’s publicly traded stock, you might swap these shares for other publicly traded securities of equal value that have appreciated.
Since the assets traded must be equal in value, there shouldn’t be a change to your estate’s value used for calculating estate taxes. After the trade, you’ll own the highly appreciated stock. However, there won’t be a taxable gain when you pass away because you’ll get a step-up on the basis.
Likewise, for grantor trusts with appreciated real estate, an IRC §1031 exchange allows for capital gains taxes to be deferred when swapping one real estate investment property for another. Discuss with your estate planning attorney how an irrevocable grantor trust can reduce your estate tax exposure. If you would like to learn more about trusts and tax planning, please visit our previous posts.
Reference: Forbes (Dec. 22, 2022) “How To Pass On Business Assets While Paying As Little In Taxes As Possible”