If you or one of your adult children is getting married, you may be concerned about protecting your family’s assets in the event of a divorce. A prenuptial agreement can be an effective tool for overriding marital property rights and keeping assets in the family. But these agreements have disadvantages. For many families, a better alternative is a domestic asset protection trust (DAPT).

Why assets need protection

The laws regarding division of property in divorce are complex and vary dramatically from state to state. In general, however, spouses retain their “separate property,” which includes property they owned before marriage as well as property received by gift or inheritance during marriage.

Marital property, which is subject to division in divorce, generally includes all property acquired during marriage, regardless of how it’s titled. Depending on applicable state law, marital property may even include the appreciation in value of separate property (including the other spouse’s business) during marriage.

In light of these risks, it may be advisable to take additional steps to protect separate property from potential loss in the event of divorce.

Prenup drawbacks

The emotional issues involved can make putting a prenup in place difficult. In addition, the requirements for an enforceable prenup make it vulnerable to attack in connection with a divorce. For example, a prenup may be unenforceable if one spouse can show that:

  • The agreement was signed under duress,
  • He or she didn’t have independent legal counsel,
  • The agreement was unconscionable when signed, or
  • The other spouse didn’t provide full financial disclosure.

Even if you dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, there’s a risk that the other spouse will challenge the agreement, which can be costly and time consuming.

Benefits of an asset protection trust

A DAPT can solve many of the problems associated with a prenup. In particular, it eliminates the emotional component, because there’s no need to obtain the consent of, or even inform, the future spouse. Provided the DAPT holds legal title to assets — and an independent trustee has discretionary control over distributions — it generally will be difficult for a divorcing spouse to reach those assets.

A DAPT is an irrevocable, spendthrift trust established in one of the 15 or so states that authorize them. What distinguishes DAPTs from other types of trusts is that, in addition to offering gift and estate tax benefits, they provide creditor protection even if the grantor is a discretionary beneficiary.

DAPT protection varies from state to state, so it’s important to shop around. Ideally, you should look for a jurisdiction that provides grantors with the greatest degree of control over trust investments and protects trust assets from a broad range of creditors, including divorcing spouses.

To take advantage of this strategy, it’s critical to transfer assets to the DAPT well before marriage. Otherwise, the transfer may be deemed fraudulent. Contact us for additional information at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

When married couples neglect to prepare an estate plan, state intestacy laws step in to help provide financial security for the surviving spouse. It may not be the plan they would have designed, but at least it offers some measure of financial security. Unmarried couples, however, have no such backup plan. Unless they carefully spell out how they wish to distribute their wealth, a surviving life partner may end up with nothing.

Marriage has its advantages

Because intestacy laws offer no protection to an unmarried person who wishes to provide for his or her partner, it’s essential for unmarried couples at minimum to employ a will or living trust. But marriage offers several additional estate planning advantages that unmarried couples must plan around, such as:

The marital deduction. Estate planning for wealthy married couples often centers around taxes and the marital deduction, which allows one spouse to make unlimited gifts to the other spouse free of gift or estate taxes. Unmarried couples don’t enjoy this advantage. Thus, lifetime gift planning is critical so they can make the most of the lifetime gift tax exemption and the $15,000 per recipient annual gift tax exclusion.

Tenancy by the entirety. Married and unmarried couples alike often hold real estate or other assets as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. When one owner dies, title automatically passes to the survivor. In many states, a special form of joint ownership — tenancy by the entirety — is available only to married couples.

Will contests. Married or not, anyone’s will is subject to challenge as improperly executed, or on grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence or fraud. For some unmarried couples, however, family members may be more likely to challenge a will simply because they disapprove of the relationship.

Here are steps unmarried couples should consider to reduce the risk of such challenges:

  • Be sure that a will is carefully worded and properly executed.
  • Use separate attorneys, which can help refute charges of undue influence or fraud.
  • Include a “no contest” clause, which disinherits anyone who challenges the will and loses.

Health care decisions. A married person generally can make health care decisions on behalf of a spouse who becomes incapacitated by illness or injury. Unmarried partners cannot do so without written authorization, such as a medical directive or health care power of attorney. A durable power of attorney for property may also be desirable, allowing a partner to manage the other’s assets during a period of incapacity.

Careful planning required

If you’re unmarried and wish to provide for a life partner, contact us to discuss potential strategies. You can achieve many of the same estate planning objectives as married couples, but only with careful planning and thorough documentation. Contact us at 205-345-9898 for details.

© 2018 Covenant CPA