The Case for Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs)
The lifetime gift tax exclusion is $1,000,000, but is not scheduled to increase in the future. If you'd like to pass on more than $1,000,000 to your heirs before your death but don't want to pay gift taxes, you may want to take a look at Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs).
With a GRAT, you transfer an asset to the trust, retaining an annuity interest for a specified term, typically two to five years, but sometimes longer. During that period, the trust pays you a specified amount every year. When the trust terminates, the property goes to the named beneficiary. The gift is valued based on the present value of the remainder interest, which is the property's value less the retained annuity interest's value. Any appreciation in the asset after transfer to the trust escapes gift and estate taxes. However, if you die before the trust ends, the trust property will be included in your taxable estate.
Recent declines in interest rates have made GRATs a more valuable estate planning strategy for a couple of reasons. When you initially place the asset in the trust, the lower interest rates will result in a lower value for your retained interest, thus reducing the gift's value. When your annuity payments are calculated, lower interest rates will result in a lower required annuity, leaving more assets in the trust for your beneficiaries. The interest rates that must be used for these calculations is 120% of the midterm applicable federal rate, which was 2.87% as of April 2009 (Source: Federal Taxes Weekly Alert, March 26, 2009).
Assets that are typically good candidates for a GRAT are those whose value is expected to increase significantly during the trust's term. GRATs are sophisticated estate planning tools that may only be appropriate in certain situations.