GRATs in Context
By Robert L. Moshman
The basic Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) comes off like a great magic trick. The Grantor transfers assets but retains the right to receive income in the form of an annuity for a specific term of years. The beneficiary ultimately ends up with the assets, but, for transfer tax purposes, the value of the asset transferred is reduced by the value of the annuity that is retained.
For example, a Grantor transfers assets worth $1 million but retains an annuity worth $500,000. The net result is a taxable gift of $500,000, even though the beneficiary will ultimately receive an asset worth $1 million.
In addition, any appreciation on the asset is assumed to be at the conservative Federal rate, which in recent years has been
extremely low. As a result, if the GRAT assets exceed that rate, all of that extra appreciation is successfully transferred to the
trust beneficiary without triggering any additional gift or estate tax.
The main potential downside of the GRAT is that the Grantor must outlive the term of the trust or the trust assets will be included in the Grantor’s taxable estate.
A cautious Grantor could shorten the term or guard against the potential of dying during the term by establishing an irrevocable life insurance trust, the proceeds of which would offset the additional estate taxes triggered by the Grantor dying during the term of the GRAT...