Estate Planning Like a Billionaire

Bloomberg has this fascinating article exploring grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) and grantor retained income trusts (GRITs) and how they are used by very wealthy business owners to pass assets to the family without incurring estate or gift taxes. (Longtime readers may recall our discussion of Mitt Romney’s large scale estate planning for his family’s estimated $750 million fortune.) Many estate planning attorneys and accountants make a sport of devising creative methods to help clients save money and pass their wealth on to future generations. The ideas aren’t illegal or unethical, they simply utilize gaps in the IRS Code that Congress and/or the Treasury haven’t solved that yield big savings to clients when multiplied by millions of shares in a given company. Estate planners are careful when practicing on the cutting edge of tax law to gauge how much risk the client is willing to take on (e.g. whether the IRS will void a transaction and send the client a tax bill), how much money is at stake, and how reliable/tested a technique is. While the estate planning techniques discussed in the Bloomberg article have been blessed by various authorities (the IRS, the Tax Court, or others), many advanced trust or tax techniques are in a legal grey area – we know X is illegal and we know Y is OK, but what about something between X and Y?

In law school, the first day of estate planning class with Prof. Martin Dickinson, he told us a story about a family business in a small town where a father gave his wife and each of his 4 children a 20% stake in the family business (worth about $5,000 each at the time, the annual gift tax exemption) in 1953. 60 years later, that family business is called Wal Mart and each 20% stake is worth $20 billion. So $100 billion was transferred without estate or gift tax liability. Sam Walton relates the story in his autobiography Made in America and credits his fraternity brother and banker, R. Crosby Kemper Jr., of UMB Bank with helping him develop the business. Here’s Bloomberg’s visual of some of the tricks of the estate planning world.

Inheriting in trust is better than inheriting money in your individual name, as it protects your inheritance from lawsuits, creditors, and divorcing spouses, among other unpleasant life surprises. Inheriting in trust using a discretionary trust provides asset protection. Asset protection uses a separate entity (e.g. a trust or LLC) to hold an asset and protect it from your creditors, divorcing spouses, spendthrift kids, or others. Asset protection trusts are not allowed under Kansas law (see K.S.A. 33-101), but Kansas and Missouri residents can use a Missouri trust to protect assets for generations. Missouri (unlike Kansas) welcomes dynasty trusts – irrevocable trusts designed to pass wealth across families for generations – and allows them to last indefinitely. For clients who anticipate inheriting over $400,000, we recommend a Missouri inheritor’s trust. An inheritor’s trust allows you to protect the assets and keep them off your balance sheet for tax purposes (so you don’t have to worry about estate, gift, or generation-skipping taxes) while having the assets available for your use and enjoyment.

My firm has experience working with individuals and families to serve their business, estate planning, and nonprofit/charitable/philanthropic needs. I enjoy working with a variety of clients – ranging from single young professionals with minimal assets to multimillionaire business owners with complex trusts. My firm has strong relationships with local and national trust companies to help administer all types and ranges of trusts. If my law firm can help you or your family with your estate planningelder lawasset protectionbusiness law needs, or digital estate planning, including a Walton GRAT, a GRIT, or other sophisticated trust planning, call me (913-707-9220) or email me ( for a free, convenient appointment.

IRS CIRCULAR 230 Disclosure: Unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog post or links is not intended or written by Johnson Law KC LLC to be used to avoid IRS or other tax penalties, and any tax advice cannot be used to avoid penalties that may be imposed by the IRS.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.


One thought on “Estate Planning Like a Billionaire

  1. Pingback: Stephen M Johnson | Find a Lawyer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.