How Long Must a Trust Be in Place to Avoid Inheritance Tax?

By Tom Streissguth

A trust is a method of protecting your assets from a complex and expensive trip through the probate courts, which have the authority to review and modify an ordinary will so that it conforms with state law. With a trust, you name a trustee to handle the transfer of assets to your named beneficiaries after your death. Some kinds of trusts also allow your estate to avoid taxes levied by the Internal Revenue Service.


In estate tax matters, the dating of a trust is not relevant. If the trust is properly drawn up, you can avoid estate taxes no matter when you create the document. The IRS does not make provision for any tax exemptions based on the year the trust was created or how old it is.

Unified Tax Credit

It’s important to remember that the IRS allows a unified tax credit that protects a limited amount of your property from estate tax no matter who you leave that property to. The amount of the unified tax credit varies from one year to the next, depending on the whims of federal lawmakers. In addition, the IRS does not levy any estate tax on assets passed to your spouse.

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Revocable Trusts

If you set up a revocable trust, you have the right to change the trust at any time. You may add or remove beneficiaries from the trust, change the terms of the document or appoint a new trustee to handle the trust. Since you keep control of the assets in a revocable trust, the IRS considers you as still the legal owner of those assets, which are not sheltered from estate taxes.

Irrevocable Trusts

An irrevocable trust does not allow you to change its terms; legally you surrender control of the assets to the trust itself. Although there are ways to change the terms or petition a court to strike down the trust, the IRS considers an irrevocable trust to be a separate legal entity for tax purposes and does not levy estate tax on the assets on the event of your death. The dating of the trust is not relevant; as long as the document remains valid and in effect, the IRS treats it the same no matter its age.

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Tax Benefits of Irrevocable Trust


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Reasons to Implement a Living Trust

A living trust is a popular estate planning tool that is most often used to avoid court-supervised settlement of an estate, or probate. A living trust is attractive to many because it is "user-friendly." Unlike other trusts, the individual creating the trust, or grantor, can act as the trustee during his lifetime. The grantor can also make changes to the trust, giving him ultimate control over trust management. Under many circumstances, a living trust can be invaluable in securing your legacy

What Are the Disadvantages of an Irrevocable Trust?

A trust is a legal device that permits a grantor to place assets under the control of a trustee, then who administers the assets for the benefit of beneficiaries named by the grantor. A living trust is a trust created while the grantor is still alive -- as opposed to a testamentary trust, which is created by the terms of the grantor's will. A trust is irrevocable if the grantor cannot unilaterally revoke it.

How to Terminate an Irrevocable Trust

With a trust, you transfer assets to a legal entity set up to shelter your estate from the probate process. A trust allows you to control who will inherit your property after your death and give instructions to a trustee on how to manage that property. Although an irrevocable trust, in theory, cannot be changed or cancelled, there are ways to close down the trust and, if you wish, transfer assets to a new one. If the trust no longer serves the purpose for which it was set up, you may revoke it or draw up amendments that substantially change its terms. In most cases, this process will be subject to review by the courts to ensure that the beneficiaries retain the rights they were granted in the original trust.

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