News sources recently revealed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — as well as other Facebook top brass–use Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts ( GRAT or GRATS) to protect their assets and investments from excessive taxation. A Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (more commonly called GRATs) is a perfectly legal–and very efficient–way to protect and pass significant assets from one person to another without incurring an exorbitantly high tax bill.
GRATs differ from certain other asset protection trusts in that they offer a good vehicle for wealthy investors who put money in start-ups, while other trusts may not. But it’s not only wealthy startup investors who may find GRATs useful. GRATs are an excellent way to shift wealth to others at little or no tax cost and with minimal legal and economic risk. As such, they can be the perfect tool for business owners, professional investors, and many others. Setting up a GRAT allows the investor/grantor to give assets over to the trust for a pre-determined number of years. During this time the assets appreciate and the grantor receives annual payments adding up to the asset’s original value plus a return based on a fixed interest rate determined by the Internal Revenue Service. At the end of the trust term the assets (at their new value) are transferred to the beneficiary named in the trust with none of the usual gift or estate tax on the appreciation.
This makes GRATs sound like the perfect (and perfectly simple) tool, but nothing is perfectly simple. The pre-determined lifetime of your GRAT will depend on your individual circumstances, as well as the tax laws at the time, so you’ll want to make sure you have the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney helping you design your trust. Contact our office for more information.
We also have other types of irrevocable trusts that can be used to create similar benefits with or without inclusion in your estate. Today with the estate tax exemption at 5 million not everyone will benefit from a GRAT but for those with less than 5 million, some of our other trusts can offer the same benefits as GRATs offer the wealthy.