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How Marital Trusts Help Protect Blended Families

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Navigating Marital Trusts: Securing Your Spouse’s Financial Future

Embarking on a journey of blending families brings its own set of joys and challenges. In this blog post, we unravel the complexities of estate planning for blended families and explore why the Marital Trust stands out as a cornerstone in building a secure and equitable future. From addressing potential conflicts to ensuring the seamless transfer of assets, join us to understand how a Marital Trust can be a linchpin in crafting a comprehensive estate plan for the unique dynamics of blended family structures.

Understanding marital trusts is crucial for couples looking to secure their financial future and provide for the surviving spouse tax-efficiently. This article guides marital trusts, how they work, and their advantages and disadvantages. With the potential to safeguard assets and ensure they reach the intended beneficiaries, marital trusts can be an effective part of a comprehensive estate plan, particularly for those in a second marriage or a blended family.

What Is a Marital Trust?

A marital trust is a type of irrevocable trust and is crafted to benefit the surviving spouse. It allows for the managed distribution of assets, potentially safeguarding against financial imprudence or external influences.

Consider that while many couples are just fine with everything going to the surviving spouse directly and outright after one spouse dies, in some cases, there may be concerns related to the surviving spouse not being able to manage the money effectively. What would happen to the money if the surviving spouse is not good with money or is vulnerable to financial predators? Perhaps giving the entire estate outright to the spouse would run the risk that all of the money would be spent irresponsibly. A marital trust allows for both tax benefits and protections for the couple’s estate to prevent these issues from happening.

How Do Marital Trusts Work?

There are three parties involved in setting up, maintaining, and ultimately passing along the trust, including a grantor, who is the person who establishes the trust; the trustee, who’s the person or organization that manages the trust and its assets; and the beneficiary. That person will eventually receive the assets in the trust once the grantor dies. The surviving spouse must be the sole beneficiary of a marital trust. Once the surviving spouse dies, the assets in the trust typically pass to surviving children. A marital trust also involves the principal assets initially put into the trust.

How Do Marital Trusts Protect Blended Families?

Using a marital trust is becoming more popular for blended families to pass assets to a surviving spouse and protect children’s inheritance from previous marriages. If one or both spouses in a second marriage have children from a prior marriage, both spouses typically want to ensure that their kids get an inheritance at some point in the future. While most married couples prioritize their spouse as the primary beneficiary, after the surviving spouse passes away, if the couple’s estate plan gives everything directly to the surviving spouse, that arrangement would run the risk that the children from a prior marriage of the deceased spouse would be cut off from receiving an inheritance.

While couples want to assume that a surviving spouse will protect children’s rights from their spouse’s previous marriage, without legal safeguards, the surviving spouse’s estate can be changed to cut out individuals named as beneficiaries after their spouse’s death. Having a marital trust for the surviving spouse ensures that this change can’t happen.

What Are Other Situations in Which a Couple Should Consider Using a Marital Trust?

Additional situations in which a couple might consider using a marital trust include wanting to prevent undue influence of an outside person or party over the surviving spouse. This usually is a concern for older couples when the surviving spouse is in declining health or may have early onset of dementia, and there’s a concern they may be vulnerable to being taken advantage of financially. Another motivation for a marital trust includes a spouse who has an addiction that prevents them from making sound financial choices.

Did Actor Tony Curtis Disinherit His Children Due to Undue Influence?

In 2010, when Actor Tony Curtis died, his five children were left out of their father’s inheritance in a last-minute decision shortly before his death, notes MoneyWise article, “Hollywood legend Tony Curtis cut his kids out of his will and $60 million fortune when he died. Here’s how to avoid leaving behind messy inheritance disputes.” While Curtis did have a will, he decided to leave the majority of his assets to his fifth wife, Jill, and intentionally disinherit his children. The change to his estate plan came only a few months before his death, which raised suspicions within the family. Some of the Curtis children opened estate disputes in the years following his death to challenge the disinheritance, causing additional pain and separation within their family. If Curtis were subject to the undue influence of his fifth wife, Jill, as some of the Curtis children claimed, then a trust could have protected them from being disinherited.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Marital Trust?

  • Marital trusts are significant in estate planning for high-net-worth individuals, serving as a tool to minimize the estate tax burden by taking advantage of estate tax exemptions. A married couple can significantly reduce or eliminate estate taxes by utilizing a marital trust.
  • The surviving spouse can receive income and financial stability from the trust.
  • Assets are kept in the family, and the inheritance intended for children from previous marriages is protected.

Estate Tax Exemptions with a Marital Trust

One of the most significant benefits of a marital trust is its impact on estate taxes. A marital trust effectively doubles the estate tax exemption for a married couple, ensuring that a more significant portion of their wealth can be transferred tax-free. In the context of the federal estate tax, this can result in substantial tax savings and financial security for the surviving spouse and any other designated beneficiaries.

The Unlimited Marital Deduction in Action

The unlimited marital deduction is a cornerstone of marital trust planning. It allows the first spouse to pass assets to the surviving spouse without incurring estate taxes at the time of the first spouse’s death. This deduction is a critical aspect of marital trusts, ensuring that the income to the surviving spouse provides the necessary financial support without an immediate tax burden.

Are There Disadvantages of Using a Marital Trust?

While a marital trust offers many benefits, it’s essential to consider any limitations or drawbacks, such as loss of flexibility once established.

  • Once established, an irrevocable trust cannot be easily altered or terminated.
  • Estate tax exemption is limited based on the federal estate tax threshold.
  • Marital trusts, like other types of trusts, require that assets be moved into the trust, a process that can be lengthy or overlooked.

Establishing a Marital Trust with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

Setting up a marital trust is a complicated form of estate planning that involves several steps, including choosing a trustee to manage the trust assets, determining the terms under which the trust assets will be managed and distributed, and ensuring that the couple’s property is held in trust. When couples have complex family situations, including blended families or a spouse with vulnerabilities, a marital trust provides for the financial well-being of the surviving spouse. It also ensures that assets are preserved for future generations.

Working with an experienced estate planning attorney who carefully plans and considers a family’s unique financial landscape allows a couple to assess whether a marital trust should be part of their comprehensive estate plan.  Book a call with us to see if a marital trust is right for your estate plan.

Additional Reading

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