If you’re rich and live in Connecticut, chances are you’ll be hearing this from your estate lawyer: As of the New Year, Connecticut trust law has entered the modern age, and that probably means you should revisit your estate plan. Trusts sound stodgy and old-fashioned, but they’re an essential part of planning your estate if you have minor children or special needs heirs, or if you want to protect your assets from creditors or save taxes.
The total revamp of the state’s trust laws, two decades in the making, kicked in on January 1. “Despite having a lot of wealth here, Connecticut had outdated or just nonexistent trust law which drove people to create trusts out of state,” says Jim Dougherty, an estate planner with Withers in New Haven, Connecticut. The new law applies to old trusts and new trusts. It helps rich people and the state—it potentially will drive trust business to local banks and trust companies (and the lawyers and accountants who service them). Here are the big changes.
Trust modifications. It will be easier to modify old trusts for tax or administrative reasons. “The ability to fix old trusts is huge!” Dougherty says. Say you want a new trust with an investment director. You can do that. It will also be easier to terminate small trusts that are uneconomical given the value of trust assets compared to the administrative costs to run it (there are annual accounting fees as well as trustee fees if you use a corporate trustee).
Directed trusts. You can divide up a trustee’s duties among the trustee and others called “directors.” So, you could appoint a director to manage the family business, relieving the trustee of this responsibility. If you have a person who would be great to make distribution decisions, you can give them that role without having to involve them in investment decisions.
DAPTs. In a shift in public policy, Connecticut now allows self-settled asset protection trusts. With a DAPT, you put money in, let it season, and thus shield it from creditors. The new law means that you can set up a DAPT in Connecticut, but it also has the effect that if you’re from Connecticut and have an out-of-state DAPT, it’s more likely to work. Sure, other states have more debtor-friendly DAPTs, but if you have Connecticut real estate or a Connecticut business you’re looking to protect, you might want to keep it in a trust there. “It’s always nice to know some property is safe,” says Marisa Dungey, a partner with Withers in Greenwich.
Dynasty trusts. Under old rules in Connecticut, you had to terminate a trust at a certain time (based on an old law called the rule against perpetuities), meaning you might have had to distribute money out to someone when it wasn’t in their best interest (someone going through a divorce, for example). Now trusts in Connecticut can last 800 years! Practically, the 800 years isn’t meaningful, but the longer time a trust can last will help the ultra rich magnify their wealth, and the flexibility on when to end a trust will help everyone.
The trust law changes come at the same time as estate tax law changes, with the Connecticut estate tax exclusion amount on the rise, so it’s an opportunistic time to fund a new trust—or add to an old trust. Connecticut’s exclusion amount is $5.1 million for 2020, up from $3.6 in 2019. It’s set to increase to $7.1 million in 2021, $9.1 million in 2022, and then to match the federal exclusion amount (now $11.58 million) in 2023 and after—the only state to do so. “I have clients who are doing more gifts each year as the exemption goes up,” says Dungey. For more on state death taxes, see Where Not To Die In 2020. See also IRS Announces Higher Federal Estate And Gift Tax Limits For 2020.