Virginia State Bar

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Trusts and Estates

A Section of the Virginia State Bar.

Summer 2001 Newsletter

Newsletter - Trusts and Estates

Volume 18, No. 1

Overview of Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs)

By Dennis I. Belcher and Kyle C. Harrison

Introduction.

A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust ("GRAT") is one of the estate planning techniques based primarily on interest rate assumptions. Clients create GRATs using assets that are likely to earn more than the Internal Revenue Service's measuring standard (the section1 7520 interest rate) during the GRAT term in an effort to pass the appreciation in the assets to the beneficiaries of the trust free of gift and estate tax.

Description of GRAT Technique.

A grantor creates a GRAT by transferring assets to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of one or more non charitable beneficiaries and retains an annuity interest for a term of years. For transfer tax valuation purposes, the amount of the taxable gift is the fair market value of the property transferred minus the value of the grantor's retained annuity interest. At the end of the term reserved by the grantor, the trust assets are distributed to the beneficiaries selected by the grantor. If the grantor dies during the GRAT term, the value of the remainder interest in the trust is included in the grantor's taxable estate under either section 2036 (retained income, possession, or enjoyment of property) or 2039 (retained right to receive annuity in transferred property).

If the trust instrument meets the requirements of section 2702, the IRS assumes that the trust assets will produce a return equal to the section 7520 rate applicable to the month of transfer. The annuity amount is paid to the grantor during the term of the GRAT, and any property remaining in the trust at the end of the GRAT term passes to the beneficiaries with no further gift tax consequences. Thus, if the GRAT assets produce a return in excess of the 7520 rate, the increase in value above the section 7520 rate is passed to the beneficiaries free of gift tax. The actuarial value of the amount of the remainder interest passing to the beneficiaries of the GRAT upon its termination is a gift to the remainder beneficiaries subject to gift tax.

If the GRAT is structured so that the retained annuity's actuarial value is almost equal to the value of the property transferred, there is little gift tax consequence. If the grantor lives out the term, the remainder passes to the beneficiaries without any additional transfer tax. If the grantor receives annuity payments in an amount equal or almost equal to the value of the property transferred, the only value removed from the grantor's taxable estate is the growth, if any, in the value of the transferred property in excess of the section 7520 rate.

The following is an example of the valuation rules of a GRAT. Assume that a parent funds an irrevocable trust with $1,000,000. Under the terms of the trust, parent receives an annual annuity for 10 years of $50,000. If the section 7520 rate is 8.0 percent, the value of parent's retained interest is valued at $313,940 and the remainder interest is valued at $686,060. Thus, the right to receive a $50,000 annuity for 10 years is worth $313,940 and the right to receive the remainder at the end of 10 years is worth $686,060. The value of the remainder interest, $686,060, would be subject to gift tax upon creation of the GRAT.

The purpose of the rules applicable to GRATs promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service is to prevent the shifting of economic enjoyment between income and remainder beneficiaries based on investment decisions made by the trustee. The grantor is entitled to receive the annuity regardless of the income produced by the trust assets. Accordingly, a trustee would have no incentive to maximize principal growth at the expense of income. The trustee's objective is to maximize the total return of the trust assets regardless whether it is from income or appreciation.

Governing Instrument Requirements of a GRAT.

The most important element in structuring a GRAT is to make sure that the governing instrument (irrevocable trust) meets the requirements of section 2702 so that the grantor's retained interest may be subtracted in determining the grantor's gift to the remainder beneficiaries. Otherwise, the grantor's retained interest is valued at zero and the gift made by the grantor to the remainder beneficiaries is the entire value of the trust assets.

Under section 2702, a "qualified interest" is valued under section 7520. If the grantor retains an interest that is not a qualified interest or does not meet one of the exceptions to section 2702, the retained interest is valued at zero. Thus, if the requirements of section 2702 are not met, a GRAT could result in a taxable gift equal to the entire value of the trust assets regardless of the interest retained by the grantor.

Section 2702(b) defines a "qualified interest" to be:

1. Any interest which consists of the right to receive fixed amounts payable not less frequently than annually, and

2. Any interest which consists of the right to receive amounts which are payable not less frequently than annually and are a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the property in the trust (determined annually).

The term of the annuity in a GRAT must be a fixed amount of time equal to the life.of the annuitant, a specified term of years, or the shorter of those two periods.

The Annuity Amount of a GRAT.

The trust instrument must require that the annuity amount be payable to the holder of the annuity interest at least annually.2 The annuity payment may be based on the taxable year of the trust or may be based on the anniversary date of the trust.3 If the payment is made on the anniversary date, proration of the annuity amount is required only if the last period during which the annuity is payable to the grantor is a period of less than 12 months. If the annuity payment is based on the taxable year, proration of the annuity amount is required for reach short taxable year of the trust during the grantor's term. The prorated amount is the annual annuity amount multiplied by a fraction, the numerator of which is the number of days in the short period and the dominator of which is 365 (or 366 if the proration occurs during a leap year).4

The annuity must be paid to the grantor regardless whether the trust has produced income equal to the annuity. If trust income is insufficient, the trustee must be required to invade principal to pay the annuity. A note, other debt instrument, option, or similar financial arrangement may not be used, directly or indirectly, to pay the annuity amount.5 Therefore, the assets in the GRAT must produce a sufficient annual cash flow to pay the annuity amount, or must be sufficiently liquid that the trustee can sell or distribute a portion of the assets each year to satisfy the annuity amount.6

If a grantor's annuity payment is based on the anniversary date of the trust, it must be paid no later than 105 days after the anniversary date.7 An annuity payment based on the taxable year of the trust may be paid in the subsequent year as long as the annuity is paid by the date on which the trustee must file the income tax return for the trust determined without regard to extensions.8 The trust instrument must require that the trustee actually pay the annuity amount to or for the benefit of the grantor and it is not sufficient for the grantor to have the annual right to withdraw the annuity amount.9

The annuity amount must.be·a fixed amount expressed either in the terms of a fixed dollar amount or a fixed percentage of initial fair market value of the property transferred to the trust as finally determined for federal tax purposes.10 By expressing the annuity in terms of a formula, it is possible to minimize gift tax exposure. Under the IRS Regulations, the fixed amount does not have to be the same amount for each year. But, variations in the annuity amount from year to year may not exceed 120 percent of the amount payable in the previous year.11 If . the trust property will appreciate over the term of the trust at a uniform rate, increasing annuity payments will produce more value for the beneficiaries at the end of a term than would constant annuity payments.

An example of a qualified payment in a GRAT is as follows. Parent transfers 100 shares of Good's Transfer, Inc. to a three-year GRAT. Under the terms of the trust, the trustee is to pay parent an annuity equal to 10 percent of the initial value of the trust assets in the first year with the annuity payment increasing 20 percent in the second year and 20 percent in the third year. In each case the value is to be the value as finally determined for federal gift tax purposes. After the third payment has been made to parent, the trustee is to distribute the remaining trust assets to child.

Under the IRS Regulations, the trustee may distribute amounts in excess of the annuity amount to the grantor.12 The value of rights to receive payments in addition to the qualified annuity interest has a zero value for gift tax purposes. The Regulations require that the trust instrument contain a provision requiring adjustment to annuity payments previously made if an error was made by the trustee in determining the annuity amount.13

The trust instrument must prohibit:

1. Additional contributions to a GRAT.14

2. Commutation, or the prepayment by the trustee of the grantor's annuity interest.15

The purpose of prohibiting commutation is to prevent termination of a GRAT when the grantor's life expectancy is short. If a grantor dies during the term of the GRAT, a portion of the GRAT will be included in the grantor's estate under section 2036. This amount could be reduced if the trustee could terminate the GRAT before the grantor's death by paying the grantor an amount equal to the actuarial value of the grantor's remaining interest and delivering the balance of . the trust assets to the remainder beneficiaries.

3. Payments from the trust before the expiration of the qualified interest to or for the benefit of any person other than the annuitant.16

4. For trusts created on or after September 20, 1999, issuance of a note, other debt instrument, option, or similar financial arrangement in satisfaction of the annuity payment obligation.17

Zeroed Out GRAT.

A zeroed-out GRAT is a GRAT in which the value of the grantor's retained interest is equal to the value of the property transferred to the trust, resulting in a remainder (and a gift-tax value) of zero.

Under IRS Regulation Section 25.2702-3(e), Example 5, the computation of the taxable gift made upon creation of a GRAT always has a mortality component. In such case, the value of the GRAT remainder could never be "zeroed out" (have a value of zero) and thus not result in a taxable gift -- even where the annuity was payable for a fixed term without a reversionary interest and was expected to exhaust the trust principal by the end of the term under IRS annuity valuation tables.18 A recent decision of the United States Tax Court, Walton v. Commissioner, 115 T.C. 41 (2000), appears to resolve the question of whether a zeroed out GAAT is possible. Before Walton, IRS Regulations provided that even if a grantor retained the right to receive an annuity over a fixed term in a GRAT, the value of the qualified annuity interest was determined as though the right to the annuity was retained for the shorter of the fixed term or until the grantor's death.19 Pre-Walton, the right to receive an annuity for the shorter of an individual's life or a fixed term was considered by the IRS to be worth less than the right to receive an annuity for the entire fixed term. The IRS allowed the retained annuity interest to be valued only if the grantor would receive it during life. Any interest that would pass to the grantor's estate if he or she died during the term of the GRAT would not be included in the value of the retained annuity interest. Therefore, the amount of the annuity was reduced by the probability of the individual's death before the end of the term and that amount is considered a remainder interest taxable as a gift to the remainder beneficiaries.

Under Walton, the value of an annuity payable over a term to the grantor and to the grantor's estate if the grantor dies during the GRAT term is not reduced by the value of the contingent interest that the grantor's estate if the grantor dies during the GRAT term because a fixed annuity payable to the grantor or the grantor's estate does constitute a "qualified interest" under section 2702. Therefore, a fixed GRAT period may be established in the trust document that will not terminate if the grantor dies during the GRAT term. A GRAT that pays the annuity amount to the grantor during his or her lifetime and to his or her estate if the grantor dies during the term of the GRAT will be included in the value of the retained annuity interest. This removes the decrease previously required to be made to the retained interest to account for the possibility of the grantor's death during the term and allows the GRAT to be zeroed out leaving a remainder of zero. It should be noted that the Internal Revenue Service has not acquiesced in the Walton decision and thus its position on this issue remains uncertain.

Transfer Tax Aspects of GRATs.

Under section 2702(a)(2)(B), the value of a qualified annuity interest is determined under section 7520. Thus, the value of a gift to a GRAT will be determined by subtracting from the value of the assets transferred to the GRAT an amount equal to the actuarial value of the retained annuity. If the annuity would exhaust the trust funds before the last annuity payment is to be made, the annuity is not considered payable for the entire period.

A GRAT is a more attractive technique when the section 7520 rate is low. As the section 7520 rate decreases, the value of the retained interest in a GRAT will increase. This occurs because a decrease in the assumed rate of return makes the right to receive fixed amounts in the future more valuable. Because the grantor may use a valuation formula, a GRAT allows the grantor to transfer a difficult to value asset without a significant risk of unexpected gift tax.

The following is an example of how a valuation formula will reduce -the risk of unexpected gift tax consequences when dealing with hard to value assets. In January 2000, assume parent, age 60, transfers 100 shares of common stock in Good's Transfer, Inc., a corporation taxed as an S corporation, to a GRAT. Good's Transfer has 200 shares outstanding and the value of the entire company is $1,000,000. Under the terms of the GRAT, parent retains an annuity of 15 percent, increasing by 20 percent annually, for five years, with the remainder interest passing to parent's children. Parent files a gift tax return showing a transfer of $300,000 to the GRAT ($1,000,000 x 50 percent ownership less a 40 percent discount), with a gift of $44,872.50 to Sarah, Matt, and Ben. If on audit the Internal Revenue Service allows only a 20 percent discount, the taxable gift would be $59,830. Thus, an increase in the amount transferred by $100,000 increases the taxable gift by approximately $15,000.

There should be no gift tax consequences upon the termination of the GRAT. Because the grantor's gift was complete for gift tax purposes when the trust was created, the trust assets remaining in the GRAT upon the expiration of the annuity term are paid to the remainder beneficiaries without any additional" gift tax imposed on the grantor. If the trust property generates income and appreciation in excess of the section 7520 rate used to value the annuity interest when the GRAT was created, property will be transferred to the remainder beneficiaries without being subject to gift tax.

If the grantor dies during the term of the GRAT and has the right to receive further annuity payments, a portion of the GRAT will be included in the grantor's gross estate for federal estate tax purposes. The value of property transferred during the transferor's· life is included in the transferor's gross estate if the transferor retained for life or for a period that did not end before the transferor's death, the right to receive the income from the transferred property.20

Under a GRAT, the grantor does not explicitly retain the right to receive income;. rather, the grantor retains the right to an annuity. The Internal Revenue Service treats an annuity as if it were the right to receive the income from a portion of the principal of the trust. The included portion is that fraction of the trust which would be required to be invested at the section 7520 rate in effect on the date of the grantor's death to produce income equal to the required annuity payment.

A GRATis not an appropriate device to use in a generation-skipping transfer. The transfer of assets to a GRAT is a transfer to a trust and not to a grandchild. The generation-skipping transfer occurs when the grantor's interest in the GRAT terminates. Thus, GST exemption must be applied when the GRAT terminates and the ability to leverage the client's GST exemption is .lost.

If the grantor dies during the GRAT term and the right to the remaining annuity payments passes to a surviving spouse, in order to ensure that the value of the remaining annuity interest qualifies for the estate tax marital deduction under section 2056, the grantor's estate planning documents should provide that if the grantor's spouse survives the grantor, the annuity payments will either (1) pass outright to the surviving spouse or her estate or (2) pass to a marital trust over which the spouse has a general power of appointment.

Income Tax Consequences of a GRAT.

If a trust is classified as a "grantor trust," the grantor of the trust must report all items of income and deductions from the trust assets. If the grantor retains an annuity interest worth more than five percent of the value of the trust assets, the trust will be classified a grantor trust for federal income tax purposes.21 A trust may be a grantor trust for some (for example income only and not principal) or all purposes. If a trust is classified as a grantor trust for all purposes, all items of the trust's income, deduction, and credits are reported by the grantor in calculating the grantor's income tax liability, regardless of the distributions to the grantor from the trust.22

A GRAT should typically be structured to be a grantor trust for both principal and income purposes. This provides several benefits. First, if the GRAT is a grantor trust for all purposes, the GRAT may be a shareholder in an S corporation. Next, if the GRAT is grantor trust for all purposes, transactions between the grantor and the trust are ignored. Thus, no gain or loss is recognized when the grantor sells assets to a GRAT, or the GRAT sells assets to the grantor.

It may not be safe to rely on the annuity payment provisions for the GRAT to be classified as a grantor trust. Generally, the estate planner should insert special provisions in the GRAT to ensure that the GRAT will be classified as a grantor type trust for all purposes.

Situations Where a GRAT Should Be Considered.

1. Leverage Unified Credit Gift With No Downside Risk. A GRAT allows a client to leverage transfers to children. As 'long as the asset appreciates more than the section 7520 rate, the children win. If the asset does not outperform the section 7520 rate, then the client receives back the asset with no tax repercussion.

2. Client Has Made Unified Credit Gift and Does Not Want to Pay Gift Tax. Some clients have made unified credit gifts and are reluctant to make additional gifts because of the aversion to paying gift tax. The client in this situation should consider a zeroed-out GRAT. A zeroed-out GRAT does not result in a taxable gift to the remainder beneficiaries and the client does not pay gift tax. If the· trust assets outperform the section 7520 rate, the client has made a transfer to children or other beneficiaries outside the transfer tax system.

3. Asset With Significant Appreciation Potential in Short-Term. A GRAT may be an ideal vehicle for the transfer of significant appreciation on an asset. Assume the client owns an interest in a business that may go public in the near future. If the client transfers the business interest to a short-term zeroed-out GRAT, most of the appreciation will be transferred tax free. If the client has more than one asset with this potential, it is wise to use a separate GRAT for each asset so as not to dilute the appreciation. An example of an excellent asset to transfer to a GRAT is an interest in a racehorse before the horse has success on the track.

4. Client Has Portfolio That Will Outperform the Section 7520 Rate and Wants to Minimize Transfer Taxes. The key to using a GRAT to leverage transfers is selecting assets that will outperform the section 7520 rate. Since 1993, the section 7520 rate has ranged from a low of 5.6 percent to a high of 9.6 percent. During that same time period there have been numerous security issues trading on national exchanges that have far exceeded the section 7520 rate. If a client, age 60, had transferred a $1,000,000 portfolio of securities to a three-year GRAT, with a 30 percent annuity increasing 20 percent annually in November of 1993 (the section 7520 rate was 6.0 percent), and the securities increased 30 percent annually the results would be as follows. The grantor's retained annuity interest was valued at $944,280 and the taxable gift to the remainder beneficiaries was $55,720. Until the GRAT terminated in September of 1996, the grantor received annuity payments totaling $1,092,000. The remainder beneficiaries received $870,048. A gift of $55,720 was leveraged to $870,048.

Conclusion.

The potential transfer tax advantages of a GRAT derive from the assumptions used to value the income and remainder interests under section 7520. In determining the present value of the split interests, section 7520 assumes that the transferred property will produce income equal to a prescribed interest rate and the principal value of the property will not increase or decrease.

If the total of the income and appreciation from the property is greater than the section 7520 rate, the remainder interest will have been undervalued for federal transfer tax purposes and any excess value passes to the remainder beneficiaries free of transfer tax. If the income and appreciation from the property do not outperform the section 7520 rate, the taxable gift is greater than the remainder interest passing to the remainder beneficiaries. If the GRAT is structured so that the remainder interest is relatively small, the downside of a GRAT is slight and the upside is large.

Dennis Belcher, a partner in the Richmond office, practices in the areas of business planning, estate and trust administration, estate planning, charitable planning and fiduciary litigation. Mr. Belcher received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary in 1973 and his J.D. degree in 1976from the University of Richmond. He is a member of the Board of Regents of the American College of Trust and Estate counsel and Vice Chair of the Probate and Trust Division of the Real Property, probate, and Trust Law Section of the American Bar Association.

Kyle C. Harrison (K. C.) also with practices in the Trusts and Estates area with McGuire Woods LLP. She received her B. A. cum laude from the College of William and Mary and her J. D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.

ENDNOTES

1 All section references are to sections of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.
2 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(1).
3 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(3).
4 Id.
5 Treas. Reg. §25.2702-3(b)(1)(i).
6 See Howard M. Zaritsky, Y2K-A Vantage Year for GRATs, 28 Estate Planning 144 (March 2001).
7 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(4).
8 Id.
9 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(1)(i).
10 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3{b)(1)(ii).
11 Id.
12 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(1)(iii).
13 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(2).
14 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(b)(5).
15 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(d)(4).
16 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(d)(2).
17 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(d)(5)(i).
18 Deborah V. Dunn, Coming to a Wal-Mart Near You: Tax-Free GRATs, Trusts & Estates (Apri12001) p.10, 12.
19 Treas. Reg. § 25.2702-3(e), Example (5).
20 I.R.C. § 2036.
21 I.R.C. §
22 Treas. Reg. § 1.671-3.