DEFINITION of 'Marital Trust'

A fiduciary relationship between a trustor and trustee for the benefit of a surviving spouse and the married couple's heirs. Also called an "A" trust, a marital trust goes into effect when the first spouse dies. Assets are moved into the trust upon death and the income generated by the assets goes to the surviving spouse. Under some arrangements, the surviving spouse can also receive principal payments. When the second spouse dies, the trust passes to its designated heirs.

BREAKING DOWN 'Marital Trust'

There are three types of marital trusts: a general power of appointment, a QTIP trust and an estate trust. A marital trust allows the couple's heirs to avoid probate and take less of a hit from estate taxes by taking full advantage of the unlimited marital deduction, which allows spouses to pass assets to each other without tax consequences. However, when the surviving spouse dies, the remaining trust assets will be subject to estate taxes. To further avoid estate taxes when the surviving spouse dies, a marital trust is sometimes used in conjunction with a credit shelter trust (also called a "B" trust).

An example of when a marital trust might be used is when a couple has children from a previous marriage and wants to pass all property to the surviving spouse upon death but provide for their individual children upon the surviving spouse's death. In case the surviving spouse remarries, the deceased spouse's assets will go to his or her children instead of to the new spouse.

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