The October 3, 2009 Wall Street Journal had an article entitled "Transferring Wealth Via the Bank of Mom & Dad." The article addresses in detail some sophisticated estate planning tools (SCINs, GRATs and IDGTs) that are used by closely held family business companies and those who want to transfer more wealth to their heirs tax-free. The article addresses how falling interest rates can be used to transfer more wealth to family members tax-free via intra-family loans and transactions.
A copy of the article can be found at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125452042817860431.html
The article gives an example regarding the applicable federal rates in October 2009. Under the rates set monthly by the IRS, you can make a nine-year fixed-rate loan to your child for as low as 2.63%. This allows the child to borrow at a very low rate. In addition, you and your spouse could forgive up to $52,000 of the loan annually ($26,000 if the child is single), reducing their future estate tax liability without triggering current gift taxes. There are numerous rules regarding written agreements, collection of payments and the loan itself that need to be followed so the IRS does not accuse you of planning it as a gift all along.
There are three tools discussed in the article. A Self-Canceling Installment Note (SCIN) is a technique used to sell an asset, usually shares or partnership interests in a closely held family business, in exchange for an interest-bearing promissory note. An appropriately structured SCIN will remove the future appreciation in the family business from the seller’s estate. In addition, if the seller dies prior to the maturity of the promissory note, the then-outstanding principal amount of the note may be excluded from the seller’s gross estate. The article makes a SCIN look simpler than it is and there are numerous requirements that must be met in order for the IRS to respect the validity of the cancellation provision.
A Grantor-Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) may enable you to transfer future appreciation on an asset to your heirs. If you outlive the term of the trust, most commonly two or three years, then a portion of the gain on the assets will move to your heirs free of gift or estate tax. If you die before the term of the trust expires, however, the assets revert to your estate and are taxable.
An Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT) involves making a partial gift to a trust, which then purchases the rest of the asset in installments. IDGTs (sometimes pronounced "idjits") are sometimes preferred to GRATs, because IDGTs move an asset out of your estate immediately. There are advantages and disadvantages of the IDGT technique which are not addressed in the WSJ article.
The costs and benefits of a SCIN, GRAT or an IDGT must be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In appropriate circumstances, these tools provide families and family business owners with valuable estate planning tools to transfer the business or wealth to the next generation.
As with any sophisticated estate planning: do not try this at home or try to do it yourself. These tools demand the expertise of a trust attorney who specializes in estate planning.
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