Is it possible to amend, modify, or change the provisions of an irrevocable trust?
All trusts can be classified as either revocable or irrevocable. The #1 reason people create revocable trusts is to hold title to assets in a way that you keep total control but eliminate the attorney and court-involved probate process when you pass away. Quite a bit is written about using revocable living trusts to avoid probate, so that is not the topic of this post.
Irrevocable trusts, however, are created for many different reasons: avoid taxes, lawsuit protection, and nursing home protection, just to name a few.
The word "irrevocable" scares many consumers, but it may not need to. Someone can establish an "irrevocable" trust, yet reserve the right to modify certain terms of the trust after the trust is created.
Here's an example: Parent sets up a trust. Parent is referred to as the "Settlor." In the trust instrument, it states that "X" is the trustee of the trust. It further states that "Y" and "Z" are the principal beneficiaries of the trust. The trust states that the trustee may distribute principal to the principal beneficiaries during the lifetime of the Settlor. The trust instrument further provides that when the Settlor dies, the trustee shall terminate the trust and distribute the principal to the principal beneficiaries.
Then, the trust instrument further provides that the Settlor can replace the trustee, and the trust instrument also provides that the trustee can replace the principal beneficiaries. Now you have an irrevocable trust where the Settlor has expressly reserved the right to modify certain provisions of the trust, yet there are some provisions of the trust that the Settlor cannot, under any circumstances, modify.
Fueling this concern over the inflexibility of irrevocable trusts is the fact that back in the 1990's, most irrevocable trusts were set up to avoid the 55% estate tax on assets that exceeded $600,000 in value at death. Settlors of those irrevocable trusts almost never reserved the right to modify those trust provisions for fear that the "right to modify" would cause the trust assets to revert back to the estate of the Settlor.
But since we now have an $11.4 million estate tax exemption, and portability between spouses, married couples can exempt $22.8 million in assets from the estate tax. Moving assets out of the estate to avoid estate tax just isn't a concern any more.
Now, irrevocable trusts are established for a variety of reasons: yes, tax avoidance is one. But so is lawsuit protection, nursing home protection, and many other reasons. But you need to be very careful when you are attempting to take advantage of trusts and other legal strategies to gain these protections because the slightest alterations of wording can have adverse tax, creditor protection, and Medicaid eligibility consequences.
So, in summary, an irrevocable trust does not need to be as scary as it first sounds, due to the fact that you can reserve the right to modify certain provisions, but you will want to tread carefully.
This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
Phone: (225) 329-2450