Wills & Trusts

Spendthrift Trusts: A Powerful Tool for Asset Protection and Financial Management (With Examples)

January 11, 2024

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Estate planning is crucial for ensuring the distribution of your assets according to your wishes, managing potential tax liabilities, and providing financial security for your loved ones. One particular type of trust that can be beneficial for individuals concerned about protecting their assets and managing their beneficiaries' financial decisions is the Spendthrift Trust. In this blog post, we will explore the features, benefits, and considerations of a Spendthrift Trust to help you determine if it is the right choice for your estate planning needs.

What is a Spendthrift Trust?

A Spendthrift Trust is a type of irrevocable trust designed to shield trust assets from the beneficiary's creditors and provide a controlled distribution of assets based on predetermined guidelines or the trustee's discretion. This type of trust can be especially useful in situations where the beneficiary may have poor financial management skills, is vulnerable to financial exploitation, or is at risk of incurring significant debt due to personal or professional circumstances.

Pros and Cons of a Spendthrift Trust

A Spendthrift Trust, like any other estate planning tool, has its advantages and disadvantages. In this section, we will discuss some of the pros and cons associated with establishing a Spendthrift Trust to help you determine if it is the right choice for your estate planning needs.

Advantages

  1. Asset Protection: One of the primary advantages of a Spendthrift Trust is the protection it provides for trust assets against the beneficiary's potential creditors. By restricting the beneficiary's access to the trust principal and controlling the distribution of trust assets, a Spendthrift Trust can shield the assets from legal claims, bankruptcies, and other financial liabilities.
  2. Controlled Distribution: A Spendthrift Trust ensures that trust assets are distributed according to the grantor's wishes or the trustee's discretion. This can be particularly beneficial in situations where the beneficiary may have poor financial management skills or is susceptible to financial exploitation.
  3. Financial Management: The trustee of a Spendthrift Trust is responsible for managing the trust assets and making decisions related to distributions. This provides a level of professional financial management that can be beneficial for beneficiaries who may lack the skills or experience to manage their finances effectively.
  4. Tax Benefits: While a Spendthrift Trust does not offer the same level of tax benefits as some other types of trusts, it can still provide certain tax advantages. For example, a Spendthrift Trust can help minimize estate taxes if structured properly and can provide income tax advantages by spreading trust income over multiple beneficiaries or tax years.
  5. Privacy: A Spendthrift Trust can provide a degree of privacy for the grantor and the beneficiary, as the trust's terms and assets are generally not subject to public disclosure. This can be an important consideration for individuals who value privacy in their estate planning.

Disadvantages

  1. Loss of Control for Beneficiary: While a Spendthrift Trust provides asset protection and controlled distribution of assets, it also limits the beneficiary's control over the trust assets. This can be a disadvantage for beneficiaries who may have the skills and knowledge to manage their finances effectively and could lead to potential conflicts between the beneficiary and the trustee.
  2. Estate Tax Liability: A Spendthrift Trust, like other irrevocable trusts, may be subject to estate taxes depending on the size of the trust and the applicable exclusion amount. It is essential to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to structure the trust in a way that minimizes potential tax liabilities.
  3. Complexity: Establishing and managing a Spendthrift Trust can be more complex than other estate planning options. It requires careful drafting and ongoing administration to ensure the trust is structured and funded correctly to achieve the desired asset protection and controlled distribution benefits.
  4. Irrevocability: A Spendthrift Trust is typically irrevocable, which means that the grantor cannot amend or terminate the trust once it is established. This can be a disadvantage for individuals who may need the flexibility to change their estate planning strategies or adapt to changing circumstances in the future.
  5. Costs: The costs associated with establishing and maintaining a Spendthrift Trust can be higher than other estate planning options. These costs include legal fees for drafting the trust, ongoing trustee fees, and potential tax preparation and accounting fees related to trust administration.

In conclusion, a Spendthrift Trust offers several advantages for individuals concerned about asset protection and controlled distribution of their assets. However, it is essential to weigh these benefits against the potential disadvantages and consider working with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine if a Spendthrift Trust is the right choice for your individual circumstances.

Comparing Spendthrift Trusts to Other Types of Trusts

While a Spendthrift Trust offers several advantages for asset protection and controlled distribution, it is essential to understand how it compares to other types of trusts to make an informed decision. In this section, we will compare a Spendthrift Trust to various other trust structures.

Spendthrift Trust vs. Revocable Living Trust

A Revocable Living Trust is a flexible estate planning tool that allows the grantor to maintain control over their assets during their lifetime and distribute them according to their wishes upon death. In contrast, a Spendthrift Trust is irrevocable and focuses on providing asset protection and controlled distribution of assets for the beneficiary. While a Revocable Living Trust offers the advantage of flexibility and control for the grantor, it does not provide the same level of asset protection or controlled distribution as a Spendthrift Trust.

Spendthrift Trust vs. Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is a type of trust designed specifically to hold a life insurance policy, providing a means of removing the policy's death benefit from the grantor's taxable estate. While an ILIT can offer significant estate tax advantages and some level of asset protection, it is limited in scope compared to a Spendthrift Trust. A Spendthrift Trust can hold a variety of assets and offers a greater degree of control over the distribution of assets to the beneficiary.

Spendthrift Trust vs. Discretionary Trust

A Discretionary Trust is a type of trust that gives the trustee broad discretion in determining when and how to distribute trust assets to the beneficiary. While both a Spendthrift Trust and a Discretionary Trust provide a level of asset protection and controlled distribution, a Spendthrift Trust specifically includes a spendthrift clause to protect the trust assets from the beneficiary's creditors. In contrast, a Discretionary Trust may or may not include this level of protection, depending on the trust's terms.

Spendthrift Trust vs. Special Needs Trust

A Special Needs Trust is a type of trust designed to provide financial support for a beneficiary with disabilities without jeopardizing their eligibility for government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. While both a Spendthrift Trust and a Special Needs Trust offer asset protection and controlled distribution of assets, a Special Needs Trust specifically addresses the unique needs of beneficiaries with disabilities. A Spendthrift Trust may not be the most suitable option for addressing the specific needs and requirements associated with government benefits and disability-related expenses.

Spendthrift Trust vs. Dynasty Trust

A Dynasty Trust is a type of trust designed to preserve and protect assets for multiple generations, potentially avoiding estate taxes and providing ongoing financial support for future beneficiaries. While both a Spendthrift Trust and a Dynasty Trust offer asset protection and controlled distribution of assets, a Dynasty Trust focuses on long-term, multigenerational wealth preservation. In contrast, a Spendthrift Trust is primarily concerned with protecting assets for a single beneficiary and managing their financial decisions.

A Spendthrift Trust offers specific advantages in terms of asset protection and controlled distribution of assets. However, it is essential to consider other trust options and work with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the best trust structure for your unique circumstances and goals.

Spendthrift Trusts: 5 Examples

Scenario 1: Protecting an Heir from Creditors

Sam's son, Michael, has always been a bit irresponsible with money and has built up significant credit card debt. Sam wants to leave his estate to Michael, but he's worried that Michael's creditors will seize everything.

So, Sam sets up a spendthrift trust. This means that after Sam's death, the assets will be controlled by a trustee who will distribute them to Michael in a way that protects them from creditors.

Scenario 2: Substance Abuse Issues

Sarah's daughter, Jane, has struggled with substance abuse for many years. Sarah wants to ensure that Jane is provided for after her death, but she's concerned that a large amount of money could exacerbate Jane's addiction problems.

Sarah sets up a spendthrift trust with a trusted friend as the trustee. The trustee has the discretion to use the funds for Jane's benefit (e.g., paying for rehab, rent, medical bills) without giving Jane direct access to the money.

Scenario 3: Special Needs Child

Laura's son, Ethan, has a disability and will likely need financial support for his entire life. Laura is concerned that if she leaves money directly to Ethan, it could disqualify him from receiving certain types of government assistance.

Laura sets up a spendthrift trust for Ethan to ensure that he has the additional resources he needs without losing his eligibility for government benefits.

Scenario 4: Ensuring Long-term Financial Support

Robert has built a sizable estate and wants to leave it to his children. However, he's worried they might spend it all too quickly if given a lump sum.

Robert sets up a spendthrift trust that pays out a fixed amount each year, ensuring his children will have a steady income for many years to come.

Scenario 5: Protection from Beneficiary’s Divorce Proceedings

Emily is leaving her wealth to her daughter, Lily, who is going through a bitter divorce. Emily worries that her hard-earned assets may end up with Lily’s soon-to-be-ex-husband in the divorce settlement.

Emily sets up a spendthrift trust to ensure that the assets she leaves to Lily are protected from any divorce proceedings.

Other important details

Beneficiaries

The primary beneficiary of a Spendthrift Trust is the individual for whom the trust is established. The trust is designed to provide them with financial support while protecting the trust assets from potential creditors and ensuring a controlled distribution based on the grantor's wishes or the trustee's discretion.

Revocable or Irrevocable

A Spendthrift Trust is typically irrevocable, meaning that the grantor cannot amend or terminate the trust once it is established. This provides a higher level of asset protection and ensures that the trust assets are permanently removed from the grantor's estate.

Tax Implications

The tax implications of a Spendthrift Trust can vary depending on the trust's structure and the assets held within the trust. It is essential to work with an experienced estate planning attorney and tax professional to structure the trust in a way that minimizes potential tax liabilities and maximizes the benefits for the beneficiary.

Funding

A Spendthrift Trust can be funded with a variety of assets, including cash, securities, real estate, and other property. It is important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the trust is properly funded and structured to achieve the desired asset protection and controlled distribution benefits.

Asset Protection

One of the key features of a Spendthrift Trust is the asset protection it provides for the beneficiary. By restricting the beneficiary's access to the trust principal and controlling the distribution of trust assets, a Spendthrift Trust can effectively shield the assets from legal claims, bankruptcies, and other financial liabilities.

Grantor Control

Although a Spendthrift Trust is irrevocable, the grantor maintains a degree of control over the trust assets through the trust's terms and the selection of the trustee. The grantor can establish specific guidelines for asset distribution or grant the trustee discretion in making distribution decisions. Additionally, the grantor can choose a trusted individual or professional trustee to manage the trust assets and make decisions in the best interest of the beneficiary.

A Spendthrift Trust can be a valuable estate planning tool for individuals concerned about protecting their assets and managing the financial decisions of their beneficiaries. By understanding the features and benefits of a Spendthrift Trust, you can make an informed decision about whether it is the right choice for your estate planning needs. As always, it is essential to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your trust is properly structured and implemented.