A BYPASS TRUST (also called a credit shelter trust, the “B” trust of the “AB” trust arrangement, or the family trust) is a type of trust typically set up by a married couple that is concerned about estate tax liability.
The bypass trust is set up to receive that amount of assets that equals the amount of the federal estate tax exemption in effect when the first spouse dies. It is called a bypass trust because the assets contained in the trust escape estate taxation when the surviving spouse passes away, in effect, ‘bypassing’ estate taxation in the surviving spouse’s estate.
The beneficiary of the bypass trust is usually the surviving spouse, but this is actually not required. Children of the first spouse to die are often included as beneficiaries as well.
The requirements of the bypass trust are rather simple. It is usually funded by a provision in a Last Will or Revocable Living Trust which in effect states that it is to be funded up to the amount of the federal estate tax exemption amount (there are numerous ways that this funding provision can be drafted, but it is usually easily recognized once you see it).
Other requirements are that the surviving spouse is typically entitled to all the income from the bypass trust, plus a portion of the principal of the trust each year equal to the greater of $5,000.00 or 5% of the principal. The surviving spouse may have some power to appoint the bypass trust assets upon death to certain beneficiaries that he or she names, this is called a limited power of appointment. (*A limited power of appointment cannot be included in the event that it is expected that the bypass trust will be funded as a result of a qualified disclaimer by the surviving spouse.)
The surviving spouse may be the sole trustee of the bypass trust, but this requires some restrictive language if the bypass trust allows for the making of discretionary principal distributions from the trust. The language allowing distributions must state that distributions from the trust may only be made for the health, education, maintenance, and support of the surviving spouse. If there is a co-trustee serving with the surviving spouse, the co-trustee can be given broad discretion to make distributions for the welfare of the surviving spouse. It is typically beneficial to have a co-trustee serve alongside the surviving spouse.
The bypass trust offers a method by which spouses whose estates will be valued near the federal estate tax exclusion amount can be sure to take full advantage of each of their estate tax exclusions. It should not be attempted without professional help, it takes more than just signing the trust document to make it work, the ownership of assets will most likely need to be rearranged as well.
I will revisit the bypass trust once I make my way to P, when I will discuss the new estate tax concept of Portability.
Like any decent lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer here: unfortunately, it is impossible to offer comprehensive legal advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. And remember, reviewing this website and my blogs doesn’t make you a client of my Firm: before relying on any information given on this site, please contact a legal professional to discuss your particular situation.