Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Dynasty Trust: Definition, Purposes, How It Works, and Tax Rules

What Is a Dynasty Trust?

A dynasty trust is a long-term trust created to pass wealth from generation to generation without incurring transfer taxes—such as the gift tax, estate tax, or generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT)—for as long as assets remain in the trust.  

The dynasty trust's defining characteristic is its duration. If properly designed, it can last for many generations.

Key Takeaways

  • Dynasty trusts allow wealthy individuals to leave money to future generations without incurring estate taxes.
  • Under current law, an individual can put up to $12.06 million ($12.92 million in 2023) in a dynasty trust.
  • Dynasty trusts are irrevocable, and their terms cannot be changed once funded.

How a Dynasty Trust Works

Historically, trusts could only last a certain number of years. Many states had a rule against "perpetuities" and stipulated when a trust had to end. A common rule was that a trust could continue for 21 years after the death of the last beneficiary alive when the trust was established.

Under those circumstances, a trust could theoretically last for 100 years or so. Some states, however, have done away with rules against perpetuities, making it possible for wealthy individuals to create dynasty trusts that can endure for many generations into the future.

A dynasty trust is a type of irrevocable trust. Grantors can set strict (or lax) rules for how the money will be managed and distributed to beneficiaries. But once the trust is funded, the grantor will not have any control over the assets or be permitted to amend the trust's terms. The same is true for the trust's future beneficiaries.

Dynasty Trust Beneficiaries

The immediate beneficiaries of a dynasty trust are usually the grantor's children (the person whose assets are used to create the trust). After the last child's death, the grantor's grandchildren or great-grandchildren generally become the beneficiaries.

The trust's operation is controlled by a trustee who the grantor appoints. The trustee is typically a bank or other financial institution.

Anyone can be appointed as a trustee, but it is best to appoint an organization with a proven history of managing long-term trusts because a dynasty trust can last for a long time.

Dynasty Trust Taxes

Assets that are transferred to a dynasty trust can be subject to gift, estate, and GSTT taxes only when the transfer is made and only if the assets exceed federal tax exemptions. However, income taxes still apply to a dynasty trust if assets produce income. Therefore, individuals often transfer assets to dynasty trusts that don't produce taxable income to minimize the income tax burden, such as non-dividend paying stocks and tax-free municipal bonds.

Additionally, the assets that go into a dynasty trust and any appreciation on those assets are permanently removed from the grantor's taxable estate, providing another layer of tax relief. 

A trustee can distribute money from the trust to support beneficiaries as outlined in the trust terms. But because beneficiaries lack control over the trust's assets, it will not count toward their taxable estates. Similarly, the trust's assets are protected from claims by a beneficiary's creditors because the assets belong to the trust, not the beneficiary.

Is a Dynasty Trust a Good Idea?

Establishing a trust can have benefits and drawbacks depending on your financial situation. If you have significant assets and wish to create a legacy of wealth for your family, a dynasty trust might be a good idea. It's best to talk to an attorney familiar with trusts to see if one works for your circumstances.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Dynasty Trust?

You lose control of all assets within the trust because it becomes irrevocable. Additionally, you cannot change the terms of the trust once it is created.

Who Pays Taxes on a Dynasty Trust?

The grantor is responsible for paying taxes on a dynasty trust. The beneficiaries pay income taxes if they receive income from the trust, and generation-skipping taxes are deferred until the trust terminates and the final beneficiaries receive the remaining assets.

Who Should Consider a Dynasty Trust?

People with significant taxable assets in the estates benefit the most from dynasty trusts. This is because a dynasty trust becomes the asset owner, so the assets are not included in the estate when the grantor passes away.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "What's New - Estate and Gift Tax."

  2. Washington University in St. Louis, Open Scolarship. "The Rule Against Perpetuities Applied to Trusts," Page 286.

  3. American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. "The Rule Against Perpetuities: A Survey of State (and D.C.) Law," Pages 1-71.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Estate Tax."

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