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An Irrevocable Trust vs. an A/B Trust: Pros and Cons

The A/B Trust used to be one of the most popular estate planning products in a lawyer’s arsenal. Here’s how it previously worked: The first spouse dies and that spouse’s assets are placed into a trust using the first spouse’s estate tax exemption. The second spouse dies and their assets go to the children using the second spouse’s estate tax exemption. The assets in the first spouse’s trust then are passed to the children, thereby using both spouses estate tax exemption.
After years of this, the estate tax code was re-written combining the spouse’s exemptions making the A/B trust obsolete for this purpose. Some lawyers continue to use this method of estate planning even though it does some things poorly and others not at all. Although an A/B trust will pass the assets to the beneficiaries as good as other products, it has problems in the areas of privacy, asset protection, and Medicaid planning.
First, an A/B method of estate planning offers absolutely NO asset protection benefits while both spouses are alive and minimal protection after one spouse passes. In fact, if an attorney for a lawsuit checks a person who created an A/B trust for assets, they will see that they still own the assets in their name. While both spouses are alive, depending on how the lawyer drew up the estate plan, either each spouse has their assets in their own name with a will including a testamentary trust (a trust that doesn’t exist until death) or they each have their own revocable trust with half the marital assets.The A/B Trust used to be one of the most popular estate planning products in a lawyer’s arsenal. Here’s how it previously worked: The first spouse dies and that spouse’s assets are placed into a trust using the first spouse’s estate tax exemption. The second spouse dies and their assets go to the children using the second spouse’s estate tax exemption. The assets in the first spouse’s trust then are passed to the children, thereby using both spouses estate tax exemption.
Having assets in one’s own name or assets in a revocable trust doesn’t help for asset protection. In both scenarios, one has access to the assets, which means that one’s creditors can attach these assets as well as courts in the event of a lawsuit. After one spouse passes, the will creates an irrevocable trust or, alternatively, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable. The deceased spouse’s assets are now in an irrevocable trust and protected from creditors and the courts, but chances are that the prime years to get sued or go in debt happened a long time ago. Why not have an irrevocable trust in the first place?The A/B Trust used to be one of the most popular estate planning products in a lawyer’s arsenal. Here’s how it previously worked: The first spouse dies and that spouse’s assets are placed into a trust using the first spouse’s estate tax exemption. The second spouse dies and their assets go to the children using the second spouse’s estate tax exemption. The assets in the first spouse’s trust then are passed to the children, thereby using both spouses estate tax exemption.
An A/B trust also offers little protection from a Medicaid spend-down. Again, like above, while the spouses are alive, they will be subject to a Medicaid spend-down in order to qualify for long-term care benefits. The community spouse can keep a predetermined amount, but the rest will be spent down to a minimal amount ($1,500-2,000, depending on the state). Also, again, once one spouse dies, those assets are protected from the spend-down, but the other half of the assets are subject to the other spouses long-term care bills. An irrevocable trust would protect 100% of all of the assets.The A/B Trust used to be one of the most popular estate planning products in a lawyer’s arsenal. Here’s how it previously worked: The first spouse dies and that spouse’s assets are placed into a trust using the first spouse’s estate tax exemption. The second spouse dies and their assets go to the children using the second spouse’s estate tax exemption. The assets in the first spouse’s trust then are passed to the children, thereby using both spouses estate tax exemption.
An A/B trust doesn’t really do anything well. Instead of protecting half of the assets, a good irrevocable trust can protect all of the assets. The irrevocable trust takes all of the assets out of both spouse’s names so that they don’t own them anymore. If they don’t have title, the assets aren’t counted by Medicaid, aren’t included in the calculation for the estate tax, and cannot be found in a public record as being owned by you, thus they can’t be taken by creditors in the event of a lawsuit. In fact, if an attorney for a prospective lawsuit checks a person who created an irrevocable trust to hold assets, they won’t see any assets in your name and the lawyer probably won’t be interested in taking the case against you on a contingency basis. The lawsuit is stopped before it starts. There is a downside of an irrevocable trust; the persons creating it don’t have ownership of the assets past what they put in the trust documents. So, for the scared, there is the A/B trust and for the protected, the Ultra Trust irrevocable trust.The A/B Trust used to be one of the most popular estate planning products in a lawyer’s arsenal. Here’s how it previously worked: The first spouse dies and that spouse’s assets are placed into a trust using the first spouse’s estate tax exemption. The second spouse dies and their assets go to the children using the second spouse’s estate tax exemption. The assets in the first spouse’s trust then are passed to the children, thereby using both spouses estate tax exemption.
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Protect your assets for yourself and your children and beneficiaries and avoid tax dollars. Assets can be protected from frivolous lawsuits while eliminating your estate taxes and probate, and also ensuring superior Medicaid asset protection for both parents and children with our Premium UltraTrust Irrevocable Trust. Call today at (888) 938-5872 for a no-cost, no obligation consultation and to learn more.
Rocco Beatrice, CPA, MST, MBA, CWPP, CAPP, MMB - Managing Director, Estate Street Partners, LLC. Mr. Beatrice is an "AA" asset protection, Trust, and estate planning expert.



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