Today, many of our most sophisticated and focused estate planning clients are concerned not only with transmitting their estates in a tax-efficient manner but also with structuring their estate plans so that the lives of their children (and, perhaps, grandchildren and more remote descendants) are enhanced when they become beneficiaries.
With increasing frequency, estate planning clients express the fear that if their children receive large sums of money or assets having substantial value, they will be deprived of the motivation to be productive and responsible citizens. Worse still, some estate planning clients fear their children may view a large inheritance or the prospect of receiving large trust distributions as an opportunity to engage in negative tendencies and behaviors.
There is, however, a device available to our clients and their professional advisors that can alleviate these fears. That device is popularly known as an “incentive trust.”
Defining the Trust
An incentive trust is set forth in an inter vivos trust instrument or a will and is limited in scope only by the imagination of the estate planner and the c1ient. The vehicle addresses the client’s apprehensions that large inheritances and trust distributions could harm, if not ruin, their children’s lives. The trust is designed not merely as a vehicle for investment management, funds distribution, and, possibly, tax savings but, in addition, as a motivational tool–one that promotes and encourages “good” behaviors and tendencies, and discourages or punishes “bad” behaviors and tendencies.
Statement of purpose
The governing instrument of an incentive trust should contain both a general statement of purpose and distribution guidelines. A general statement of purpose should be composed of language that is non-legalistic in nature and focuses, in a humanistic rather than a technical way, on family values, hopes and expectations.
By way of example, a statement of purpose might express the desires of the parents of trust beneficiaries that, in the absence of unusual or unforeseen circumstances, their children will be well-educated, industrious, philanthropic individuals.
A statement of purpose could make clear that occupational success may be evaluated with reference to one’s dedication to a career that, while not financially remunerative, contributes in a meaningful and material way to the benefit of society. The statement could also indicate a parent’s approval of saving and investing and disapproval of excessive and wasteful consumption and spending.
The legal directions given to the trustee in an incentive trust’s governing instrument with regard to the making or withholding of distributions should be drafted using language that is legally and technically sound. The distribution guidelines (or “performance standards”) should specify behaviors, activities, accomplishments and failures that will result in trust distributions being made to or for, or withheld from the beneficiary.
Encouraging Positive Behaviors
To encourage a child’s academic success, a parent might include in the trust’s governing instrument a provision authorizing distributions for the child’s tuition, room and board, books and fees. The provision could take effect upon the child’s enrollment in an accredited college or university leading to a diploma or degree. The provision might additionally mandate, as a condition to receiving distributions, that the child maintain or graduate with a particular grade point average.
If a parent wishes to stimulate and reward productivity, an incentive trust provision could allow or direct the trustee to make certain payments or distributions to or for the benefit of a child who is employed in an occupation on a full-time basis. If the parent wants to instill a high standard of work-related financial productivity, an incentive trust’s dispositive provisions could be structured to direct the trustee to make payments or distributions to or for the child that match, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, the earnings the child receives from employment. Alternatively, a parent might prefer an incentive trust provision that requires the trustee to make distributions to the child to match the child’s annual savings.
Some parents wish to be specific in encouraging their children’s occupational choices. For example, a parent might include in incentive trust provisions a direction to the trustee to make payments to a child who joins the family business, works the family farm, or starts his or her own business. The incentive trust could also financially reward the child for entering the same business or profession as did the parent or for undertaking what the parent considers a socially redeeming occupation or profession.