Spousal Protection Trusts A very powerful asset preservation tool William M. Gatesman employs with married couples are Wills with Spousal Protection Trusts, a planning tool developed by Mr. Gatesman. With this tool, both spouses prepare a Will in which there is a trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Such trust is designed to be funded, not with assets passing through the estate, but with assets passing outside of probate, through pay on death accounts, beneficiary designations, life estate deeds, and by other means.
Protecting the Surviving Spouse By using such a Spousal Protection Trust, spouses can set up their affairs such that, after the first of them dies, all the assets are set aside in the trust, available without restriction to the surviving spouse, but fully protected should the surviving spouse require long term care in a nursing home. Moreover, if such trust is properly implemented, the surviving spouse would be able to qualify for and obtain Medicaid benefits for long term care without delay if and when such spouse falls ill and requires nursing home care. In this way, all of the couple’s assets, to the extent not used by the surviving spouse prior to admission to a nursing home, would be preserved for future generations, and thereafter, all care costs would be covered by Medical Assistance. This is a very powerful planning strategy, but care must be taken to ensure that the plan is properly implemented.
Implementing the Plan with Tax Deferred Assets Often, when using this tool, the largest assets passing into such spousal protection trust are IRAs and other tax advantaged retirement plans. When this type of asset passes to a beneficiary – and the Spousal Protection Trust would be the beneficiary – special rules apply to continue the income tax deferral that is the hallmark of such investments. But the traditional method of preserving the tax deferred status of such accounts – by making regular required minimum distributions to the individual beneficiary – can reduce the primary benefit of using a Spousal Protection Trust, which is to protect all of the couple’s wealth if and when the surviving spouse requires long term care in a nursing home, which care could be paid for by the Medicaid program.
Asset Preservation with Tax Deferral With proper guidance, however, a married couple can implement a plan that allows them to get the best of both worlds, that is, to prolong the income tax deferral on IRAs and qualified benefit plans for the longest time possible, on the one hand, and to prevent distributions of income and principal to the surviving spouse if and when such spouse might require long term care in a nursing home, on the other hand, thereby maximizing family wealth preservation.
Tax Planning Component of the Spousal Protection Trust The key to obtaining “the best of both worlds” as discussed above is to structure the spousal protection trust as a retirement plan “accumulation trust.” Typically, estate planners will have clients utilize what is known as a “conduit trust” as the beneficiary of an IRA or other tax deferred retirement plan to ensure continued income tax deferral. However, while a properly drafted conduit trust will ensure continuing income tax deferral because such trust mandates that the retirement plan annual minimum distributions be paid from the trust to the surviving spouse, using a conduit trust for Medicaid asset preservation planning is counterproductive because all such minimum distributions received by the surviving spouse would be required to be paid to the nursing home as part of the surviving spouse’s contribution to her cost of care even after she would qualify for Medicaid benefits. [To be sure, the surviving spouse still could get Medicaid for nursing home care, however, the distribution of the required minimum distribution from the conduit trust to such spouse is a waste of assets because, with proper planning, such payments can be avoided.]
Putting it All Together The way to continue the income tax deferral and to maximize income and asset preservation is to employ an accumulation trust in the Spousal Protection Trust. With an accumulation trust, the required minimum distribution from the retirement plan is distributed to the Trustee, but the Trustee is not required to pay such amount to the surviving spouse. Nevertheless because of the nature of the trust, the income tax deferral will continue to be allowed. This is easier said than done, however, because the tax law governing accumulation trusts for IRAs and other tax deferred retirement plans is intricate and complex.
Choosing the Right Advisor Is it important, therefore, that the advocate you choose to assist you with your asset preservation estate planning be well versed in all aspects of law that would affect your situation, including estate planning, income tax planning, IRA planning, Medicaid planning, and other areas.
Qualifications Before he studied law, William M. Gatesman obtained a Masters Degree in Accountancy with a focus on tax planning, and before becoming a lawyer, Mr. Gatesman worked as a tax consultant with a major CPA firm, and as a tax accountant in a major corporation. Mr. Gatesman has spent his career as a lawyer working in the area of estate planning and Medicaid planning, and related areas. Mr. Gatesman has the education, knowledge, and experience in all the areas of law that must be considered when doing asset preservation planning, and Mr. Gatesman relies on this background when he assist clients in employing Spousal Protection Trusts that include accumulation trusts as recipients of IRA and other retirement plan assets.
Maximizing Wealth Preservation All of this knowledge and expertise enables William M. Gatesman to utilize sophisticated legal tools, such as the Spousal Protection Trust, which trust allows clients to maximize wealth preservation if a surviving spouse should require nursing home care in the future while still allowing such spouse to prolong the income tax deferral afforded by the inherited IRA or other retirement plan for as long as possible.