Dynasty Trusts: A Tax-Efficient Way to Pass Wealth Down Through the Generations

If you want to pass money to future generations without having it subject to gift and estate taxes, then a dynasty trust may be right for you. A dynasty trust allows trust assets to be used for the benefit of multiple generations while keeping the assets out of the grantor’s and the beneficiaries’ taxable estates.

The main benefit of a dynasty trust is the avoidance of estate and gift taxes over many generations. In 2022, federal estate tax exemption is $12.06 million ($24.12 million for couples). Estates valued at more than the exemption amount will pay federal estate taxes, at a rate of between 18 percent and 40 percent. The lifetime gift tax exclusion – the amount you can give away without incurring a tax – is also $12.06 million in 2022. Note that you can give any number of people up to $16,000 each per year (in 2022) without the gifts counting against the lifetime limit. In addition, the generation skipping transfer (GST) tax affects assets passed to grandchildren. The tax is imposed even when property is left in trust for a grandchild. The GST exemption is the same as the estate and gift tax exemptions. If you transfer more than the GST exemption, the tax rate is 40 percent.

Assets transferred to a dynasty trust are subject to estate, gift ,and GST taxes only when initially transferred and only if they exceed federal exemption thresholds. While estate and gift tax exemptions are currently very high, in 2026 the exemption is set to drop to the previous exemption amount of $5.49 million (adjusted for inflation).

Another benefit of a dynasty trust is that the assets in the trust are protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors or in the event a beneficiary divorces. If the trust is properly structured, creditors cannot go after trust assets to pay the beneficiaries’ debts.

How a dynasty trust works
A dynasty trust is an irrevocable trust, which means once it is created it cannot be changed. Funds transferred into the trust will be taxed if they exceed the lifetime gift tax exclusion. However, once funds are transferred to the trust, beneficiaries of the trust can pass assets to the next generation without those assets being subject to estate, GST, or gift taxes. In addition, the assets placed in the trust are removed from your estate and can grow outside of it.

The trustee of the trust can be a beneficiary, but because the trust is designed to last for generations, it may make sense to have a professional fiduciary, such as a bank or other financial institution, serve as trustee. The trustee manages and distributes the assets in the way you set forth in the trust agreement. Usually, the trust provides for the beneficiaries’ support during their lifetimes. For example, it could direct the trustee to pay out income regularly, make periodic principal distributions, or make distributions contingent on the beneficiary’s need.

The length of time the dynasty trust can continue to exist depends on state law. Some states allow trusts to run for hundreds of years or indefinitely, while others place limits on how long the trust can operate. Traditionally, the rule against perpetuities states that a trust can last 21 years past the death of the last beneficiary. However, many states have opted out of the rule, allowing trusts to continue for many generations.

The downside of dynasty trusts is that they are inflexible. Once the trust is created, you lose access to the assets. Because dynasty trusts last for generations, they require guesswork about what will be best for your descendants.

Dynasty trusts are complicated instruments that must be designed correctly in order to provide benefits.  To determine if a dynasty trust is right for you, reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

How to Deal with an Estranged Child in Your Estate Plan

Unfortunately, not all families get along. If you are having problems with one of your children, you may not want them to benefit from your estate. There are several strategies for dealing with an estranged child in your estate plan.

Depending on the level of estrangement and the reasons for the estrangement, the following are the main approaches for treating a child differently in your estate plan:

  • Outright disinheritance. If you really do not want your child to receive anything from you, you can fully disinherit the child. To be safe, even if you are leaving a child nothing, you should specifically mention the child in the will and state that you are disinheriting him or her; failing to do so could make it easier for him or her to challenge the will. (You also need to specify whether you are disinheriting that child’s children, too.)

Disinheriting a child comes with a risk: He or she may contest the will in court, which can cost your estate time and money. There are steps you can take to try preventing a will contest, including making sure your will is properly executed, writing a letter to the estranged child to explain your reasoning, and removing any appearance of undue influence. Keep in mind, however, that nothing is foolproof.

  • Smaller inheritance. If you don’t want to disinherit your child entirely or wish to make it less likely the estranged child will contest the will, you may want to leave them an inheritance that is smaller than the amount you leave to other beneficiaries. Leaving a child a reduced inheritance may prevent him or her from contesting the will, especially if you include a no-contest clause (also called an “in terrorem clause”) in the will. A no-contest clause provides that if an heir challenges the will and loses, then he or she will get nothing. You must leave the heir enough so that a challenge is not worth the risk of losing the inheritance.
  • Put the inheritance in a trust. If the reason you do not want to leave your child an inheritance is because you are worried about how they will use the money, you can leave the child’s inheritance in a testamentary trust. You can provide instructions to the trustee on when and how the trustee should disburse the funds in the trust. For example, you can instruct the trustee to disburse the money in small increments or only if the child meets certain conditions, like staying drug- or alcohol-free or working a full-time job.

Figuring out how to treat an estranged child in your estate plan is complicated and emotional. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” To determine the best strategy for you, reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Three Estate Planning Options for Your Art Collection

Collecting art or other valuable items can be a passion for many people. Often such a pastime is more about enjoying the art or the medium itself than about ensuring financial gain. However, once you have accumulated a sizable collection, what do you want to happen to it after you pass away?

It is important that your estate plan address your art separately from your other assets.

The first step in estate planning for your collection is to document it. You should not only have the collection appraised, but also take photographs of each item and assemble any paperwork relating to the authenticity and origin of the pieces in your collection, including artist notes, bills of sale, or insurance policies.

When considering what to do with an art collection, you have three main options:

  • Sell the collection. If your family is not interested in maintaining your collection after you are gone, then you may want to sell it.

If you sell the collection while you are alive, you will have to pay capital gains taxes on the collection’s increase in value since you purchased it. The capital gains tax rate on artwork is 28 percent, compared with the top rate of 20 percent for other assets.

If the collection is sold after you die, it will be included in your estate, possibly increasing the value of your estate for estate tax purposes, but it will be “stepped up” in value. This means that if your heirs sell the collection, they will have to pay capital gains tax only on the amount by which the pieces have increased in value since your death.

  • Leave the collection to your heirs. You can give your artwork to individual family members, but a better approach may be to put the artwork in a trust or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).  The trustee of the trust or manager of the LLC whom you appoint will be responsible for sustaining the collection, including maintaining insurance on the artwork, arranging storage, and making decisions about selling and buying pieces. You can leave instructions for care and handling of the collection. Any profits from the sale of items would be split among the beneficiaries of the trust or members of the LLC.
  • Donate the collection. You can donate your artwork while you are still alive and receive an income tax deduction based on the value of the items. This can be a good way to pass on your collection while avoiding capital gains taxes. Should you choose to donate through your estate plan, your estate will receive a tax deduction based on the collection’s value.

Deciding which option to take will depend on your circumstances and your family’s interest in the collection. To figure out the best option for you, reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Supreme Court Rules State Medicaid Programs Can Recoup a Larger Share of Injury Settlements

If you are injured due to another person’s negligence and receive Medicaid benefits to pay for care, the state has a legal right to recover the funds it spends on your care from a personal injury settlement or award. Yet in a legal case involving a Floridian teen who was catastrophically injured more than a decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state Medicaid programs may be repaid from settlement funds reserved for future medical expenses as well.

The decision affects anyone who receives medical care through Medicaid after suffering a disabling injury that results in a lawsuit.

In 2008, a truck struck 13-year-old Gianinna Gallardo, leaving her in a vegetative state. The state’s Medicaid agency provided $862,688.77 in medical payments on Gallardo’s behalf. Her parents sued the parties responsible, and the case eventually settled for $800,000, of which about $35,000 represented payment for past medical expenses. The settlement also included funds for Gallardo’s future medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.

The state Medicaid agency claimed it was entitled to more than $300,000 in medical payments from this settlement, including money that had been specifically allocated for Gianinna’s future medical expenses.

Gianinna’s parents then sued the agency in federal court, arguing that the state of Florida should be able to recover monies only from that portion of the settlement allocated for past medical expenses.

When a U.S. district court ruled in favor of Gianinna, the Medicaid agency appealed. A court of appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to resolve the conflict.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court agreed that the state is allowed to recover benefits for Gianinna’s past — as well as future — medical care. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion, noted that Medicaid law “distinguishes only between medical and nonmedical care, not between past (paid) medical care payments and future (un-paid) medical care payments.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented. They argued that accepting Medicaid shouldn’t leave a beneficiary indebted to the state for future care that may or may not be needed.

To read the full decision, click here. To learn more, reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Some Social Security Beneficiaries Can Get Retroactive Payments — But at a Cost

If you need a lot of cash on hand upon retirement, Social Security offers a lump-sum payment option that’s worth six months of benefits. However, it comes at a cost. It is important to understand the details before agreeing to the payment.

If you have waited beyond your full retirement age (66 for those born between 1943 and 1954) to begin collecting Social Security benefits, you have the option of asking for back payments. The maximum that Social Security offers is six months’ worth of retroactive payments in a lump sum. The downside is that by taking the lump sum, your retirement date and the amount of your monthly benefit are rolled back six months.

When you delay taking retirement beyond your full retirement age, you amass “delayed retirement credits” that increase your benefits by 8 percent for every year that you wait, over and above annual inflation adjustments. By taking the lump-sum payment, you lose the delayed credits that you had accumulated over the previous six months, so your monthly benefit will be lower than if you did not take the lump sum — forever.  So, for example, if by taking the six months of retroactive benefits your regular monthly benefit is reduced by $150 and you live another 25 years, you’re foregoing $45,000 over that span.

Whether you should take the lump sum payment depends on a number of factors, including your life expectancy, your spouse’s needs, and what you will do with the new money. Taking the lump-sum payment makes more sense if your life expectancy is shorter. In this case, the immediate cash infusion will be more beneficial than bigger monthly payments. However, if you are married and are the higher earner, you will want to consider your spouse’s needs. If you die, your spouse will receive spousal benefits equal to the monthly amount of your benefits. The higher your benefit, the more your spouse will receive.

You also need to consider what you will do with the lump-sum payment. If you are paying off high-interest debt or investing in something with a good rate of return, the lump sum might be better than having the higher monthly payment.  To learn more, reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

What to Do If You Want to Leave Your Children Unequal Inheritances

Parents usually want to leave their children equal shares of their estate, but equal isn’t always fair. If you plan to provide more (or less) for one child in your estate plan, preparation is important.

It is natural for parents to want to treat their children equally in their estate plan, but there are some circumstances in which a parent might want to leave children unequal shares. If one child is providing all the caregiving, the parent might want to reward that child. If one child is substantially better off than another child, then the parent might want to provide more for the child who has a greater need for the funds.

Other factors that can influence how much to give each child is if one child has special needs or if there is a family business that only one child wants to run. It’s also possible that the parents have already provided more for one child during their lifetime, maybe by paying for graduate school or helping them buy a house.

Whatever the reason for leaving your children unequal shares, the important thing is to discuss your reasoning with the children. Sit down with them and explain your decision-making process. If you feel like the conversation could be difficult and contentious, you could hire a mediator to help facilitate the discussion.

Your children may be understanding of your decision, but if you are worried about one child challenging your will after you die, you may want to take additional steps:

  • Draft your will and estate plan with the assistance of an attorney and make sure it is properly executed. To avoid accusations of undue influence, do not involve any of your children in the process.
  • Explain in detail your reasoning in your estate planning document and make it clear that it is your decision and not the influence of the child who is receiving more.
  • Include a no-contest clause (also called an “in terrorem clause”) in your will. A no-contest clause provides that if an heir challenges the will and loses, then he or she will get nothing. You must leave the heir enough so that a challenge is not worth the risk of losing the inheritance.

Reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Using an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust to Transfer Assets

An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is a common estate planning tool that is used by wealthy families to transfer assets from one generation to the next while achieving significant tax savings. IDGTs are especially useful if you have assets that will appreciate significantly over time.

An IDGT is “intentionally defective” because it purposely gives the grantor – the person creating the trust – a right or power that allows the grantor to pay taxes on the income generated by the trust even though the trust assets are not a part of the grantor’s estate. The trust is irrevocable, which means the trust assets will not be counted for estate tax purposes. Transferring assets to an IDGT takes the assets out of an estate while the trust’s income is taxed at the grantor’s personal rate, not the trust’s much higher rate.

The benefit of an IDGT is that it allows the trust to grow without having to use trust assets to pay income taxes. This amounts to a tax-free gift to the trust. In addition, by paying the income taxes, you are also continuing to lower your taxable estate. IDGTs work best for assets that are likely to appreciate significantly in value, such as stock or real estate. For example, suppose you fund an IDGT with $10 million in assets and it earns 5 percent annually over a 30-year period. If the trust does not have to pay income tax, it might grow to more than $43 million. If the trust needs to pay income taxes from its own assets, its growth would likely be significantly less.

Bear in mind that when you transfer the assets to the trust, the transfer may be subject to gift taxes. Currently, the annual gift tax exclusion is $16,000 (for 2022). This means that any person who gives away $16,000 or less to any one individual (anyone other than their spouse) does not have to report the gift or gifts to the IRS. In addition, the IRS allows you to give away a total of $12.06 million (in 2022) during your lifetime before a gift tax is owed. Even if you gift assets to an IDGT and reduce your future gift and estate tax exemption, any future growth will occur outside of your estate.

If you want to avoid gift taxes, you may be able to sell assets to the trust. This is usually done in installments through an interest-bearing promissory note. When an asset is sold to an IDGT, there are no capital gains taxes because you are selling something to yourself. If the assets in the trust gain more in value than the interest rate, then the sale will still benefit the trust overall. This strategy works best when interest rates are low.

To find out if an IDGT is right for you or to learn more, reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Which States Have Been Hardest Hit by the Nursing Home Staffing Crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nursing home staffing shortages across the United States, even forcing facilities to close, but some states have been hit harder than others. A new analysis looks at which states are confronting the worst staffing problems.

Overwhelmed by the stress of long hours, low pay and exposure to the COVID-19 virus, nursing home workers have been quitting in record numbers. According to the Service Employees International Union, more than 420,000 workers — nearly 10 percent of the workforce — left the long-term care industry between the start of the pandemic and January 2022. The labor hemorrhage has turned what was already a chronic staffing problem into a full-blown crisis as understaffed facilities struggle to care for patients, accommodate family visitation, and admit new patients waiting in hospitals to be discharged.

The online platform Seniorly, which helps families find senior living facilities, recently analyzed staffing data in all 50 states and identified which ones have been hardest hit. Overall, one-quarter of nursing homes in the United States had staff shortages as of the end of February 2022, but Minnesota was reporting the most, with 41 percent of facilities experiencing a scarcity of workers. Washington and Maine also had large numbers of facilities with insufficient staff (close to 38 percent in both states).

According to Seniorly, the biggest shortages are among nursing workers (registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and vocational nurses) and aides (certified nursing assistants, nurse aides, medication aides, and medication technicians). These are the employees who provide the most direct care to nursing home residents. Although fewer facilities (an average of 3.5 percent) are experiencing shortages of higher paid workers, such as physicians, physician’s assistants, and advanced nurse practitioners, the number of facilities with a dearth of even these types of workers has jumped almost a percentage point since 2020.

While most states are enduring huge staffing problems, a few states are actually trending in the right direction. Arkansas, Connecticut, and Texas have fewer facilities reporting staffing shortages than in 2020. And California has the lowest percentage of facilities with staffing issues (about 2 percent).

To read the full analysis and see how your state is doing, click here.

Reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Requiring Adult Children to Pay for Aging Parents’ Care

Did you know you could be responsible for your parents’ unpaid bills? More than half of all states currently have laws making adult children financially responsible for their parents, including their long-term care costs. However, these laws are rarely enforced.

Filial responsibility laws obligate adult children to provide necessities like food, clothing, housing, and medical attention for their parents who cannot afford to take care of themselves. States may allow a civil court action to obtain financial support or cost recovery, impose criminal penalties on children who do not support their parents, or allow both civil and criminal actions.

Generally, most states with such laws do not require children to provide care if they lack the ability to pay. States also vary on what factors they consider when determining whether an adult child is able to pay. Children may not be required to support their parents if the parents abandoned them or did not support them.

With regard to long-term care, most low-income parents qualify for Medicaid, making it unnecessary for a nursing home to pursue the resident’s children for payment. When the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 made it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid, experts predicted a wave of lawsuits by nursing homes under state filial responsibility statutes, but that has not happened. However, in 2012 a court in Pennsylvania ruled that a son was responsible for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill under the state’s filial responsibility law.

While in most instances adult children are not held responsible for their parents’ long-term care bills under these laws, they may have to pay a nursing home in other circumstances. In some cases, children have been held liable if their parent transferred assets to them, making the parent ineligible for Medicaid. Additionally, there are cases in which children who signed an agreement affirming that they would assist their parent in paying for a nursing home have been sued for breach of contract by the nursing home. After a parent dies, Medicaid estate recovery allows the state to recoup Medicaid benefits from the parent’s estate, reducing the amount the children can inherit.

If your parent needs long-term care, be sure to consult with your attorney to make certain you are not creating a situation in which you might be liable for your parent’s care.  Reach out to the MSW team: contact Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan.

Kristen Moonan & Amy Stratton Honored by RI Monthly Excellence in Law

Congratulations to MSW partners Kristen Prull Moonan and Amy Stratton who were again honored with the Professional Excellence in Law award by Rhode Island Monthly. They were recognized in the area of  Wills, Estates & Trusts for the fourth year in a row.

Honorees were nominated and chosen by their peers, exemplifying the leading local lawyers in their respective areas of practice.

Reach out to Amy Stratton or Kristen Prull Moonan to learn more.