Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Irrevocable trusts have been part of estate planning for years. They have been used for a variety of purposes, such as to remove assets from a person's estate in order to reduce taxes, to protect assets from creditors, and to provide management of assets for beneficiaries. Historically, these trusts could run for perhaps 100 years or so, but often terminated much earlier than that. More recently, many states have eliminated or modified their laws so as to allow trusts to run forever, or at least for periods that are, for all practical purposes, forever. In addition, creditor protection has become much more important to some persons given the litigious nature of our society. The larger generation-skipping tax exemption has also fueled an increased interest in keeping assets in trust to avoid future taxes. Thus, there are now many more trusts that will run for very long periods than used to be the case.
Many clients wish to have the benefits of an irrevocable trust but do not like the idea that the trust is actually irrevocable. Estate planners have also sought ways to modify trusts that are irrevocable as a result of changed circumstances or because the planner's client is the beneficiary who objects to the terms of the trust. In response to this, state laws have been evolving over time to permit changes to what were once instruments that could not be modified. These changes raise several issues, both legal and otherwise.
For fiduciaries, this brave new world can be a minefield, exposing the fiduciary to possible litigation for making, or perhaps for not making, a change that state law now permits.
See Sarah Change & Scott Bieber, Spinning Straw into Gold: Modifying Irrevocable Trusts, ThompsonCoburn.com, January 8, 2019.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.) for bringing this article to my attention.