Following our previous articles on grantor trusts, we will cover the first of the three main IRCs: Section 675.
What is an IRC Section 675?
IRC 675 of the Internal Revenue Code, or IRC, involves, under treasury guidelines, the administrative powers of a foreign grantor trust. To be more precise, it states that the grantor of any foreign trust shall be treated as the owner of the foreign trust. This is only true if, under the instruments’ terms of the trust, that specific administrative control can be exercised primarily for the benefit of the grantor instead of the benefit of the beneficiaries.
Additionally, suppose the owner of the foreign trust has the power to amend the administrative provisions of the trust instrument, which would result in him, her, or they becoming the trust owner. If that were to happen, the grantor would be treated as the owner of the trust.
Now that we know the basic understanding of what IRC 675 is, let’s explain its various powers, such as what may cause a foreign trust to become a grantor trust, who the owner of a grantor trust is, and how to toggle grantor trust status.
Sec. 675’s Administrative Powers
The administrative powers under IRC 675 include several different authorities related to administrative duties; notable examples to take note of include voting powers and directing the investment of trust funds, borrowing funds, and the ability to deal with trust income and funds for less than adequate consideration, as well as not having sufficient interest or security.
General Powers of Administration
When we refer to a general power of administration, this will commonly include the following:
- The power to vote or direct voting of a trust’s stock or other securities, where holdings belonging to the grantor or the trust are significantly essential from the viewpoint of voting control.
- The power to control the funds’ investment by directing or vetoing proposed any trust investment or reinvestment. Of course, this is only to the extent that the funds consist of corporation stocks or securities, in which the grantor and trust’s holdings are significant from a voting control viewpoint.
- The power to reacquire the trust corpus, also known as the sum of money or trust property set aside to produce income of the trust for beneficiaries by substituting other property of an equivalent value.
To summarize our three points above, the perspective through which we need to assess whether a grantor has these powers has to do with controlling funds and assets within a trust.
Borrowing of the Trust Funds
Another power a grantor can possess is the ability to borrow trust funds. For example, we should consider a scenario where the owner can directly or indirectly borrow the corpus or trust’s income and wouldn’t be expected to completely repay any loan, including any interest, before the beginning of the taxable year.
Power to Deal for Less than Adequate and Full Consideration
This particular power is exercisable by the grantor in a nonfiduciary capacity without the approval or consent of another party. It enables the grantor to purchase, exchange, or otherwise deal with or dispose of the corpus or the trust’s income for less than adequate consideration in money or its monetary worth. Specifically, it could allow a grantor to remove assets from the trust for a small amount of deliberation, thus resulting in the grantor being able to terminate that trust completely.
Power to Borrow Without Adequate Interest or Security
This power enables the grantor to borrow the corpus or income, directly or indirectly, without sufficient interest or adequate interest or security except where a trustee, if under a general lending power, is authorized to create loans for any person without regard to said adequate interest or security.
What Are The Grantor Trust Powers?
To summarize the definitions and examples above, here are the most common and vital powers a grantor can have over a trust and its process:
- To change or add the beneficiaries of the trust.
- To borrow from the trust or a portion of the trust without adequate security.
- To use income from the trust in order to pay life insurance premiums.
- To change the trust’s composition by substituting assets of equal value.
What Causes Grantor Trust Status?
Now that we know several types of powers a grantor can have, let’s look into what causes a trust to be considered a grantor trust. There are various criteria, but among the most relevant are the following:
- IRC § 673(a): the grantor maintains a reversionary interest, meaning that the grantor holds a ‘reversionary interest’ in a trust greater than 5% of the trust principal or income.
- IRC § 674: the grantor can control the ‘beneficial enjoyment’ of trust income or assets.
- IRC § 675: the grantor maintains administrative control over the trust that can be exercised for his benefit rather than for the trust’s beneficiaries.
- IRC § 676: the trust allows the grantor (or a nonadverse party) to revoke any part belonging to a trust and reclaim or take back the trust’s assets later.
- IRC § 677(a): if the trust distributes income to the grantor, the trust may be regarded as a grantor trust.
- The grantor will also be treated as the trust’s owner if its income is, or in the owner’s direction, distributed to the owner or the grantor’s spouse. It will also accumulate for any future distribution to the grantor or the grantor’s spouse, or to be applied to payment of insurance policies on either the life of the grantor or the grantor’s spouse.
Additionally, it’s crucial to note that a grantor trust is considered a disregarded entity by the IRS for federal income tax purposes. This will mean that the grantor’s income tax return will include any taxable income or deduction earned by that trust. For the taxpayer’s convenience, the IRS will allow a grantor trust to employ the grantor’s Social Security number (SSN) rather than having a separate tax ID number (TIN).
Also, when discussing what causes grantor trust status, a vital topic to always consider is what grantor trusts’ advantages and disadvantages are. The primary benefit of estate planning is the potential to preserve wealth while minimizing taxes for one’s beneficiaries. That way, beneficiaries will have a lowered tax rate and better prioritization of any estate tax inclusion that may be available. However, a major concern is an assumption that the grantor, as a taxpayer, will have the funds to pay income tax obligations on trust assets and possible interest for the income of the trust during their lifetime. These implications for income tax purposes may cause a grantor to toggle grantor trust status so that the trust is no longer treated as a grantor trust (discussed later in this article). Further, the gift tax is also a concern, so the taxpayer must consider gift tax considerations and tax consequences when creating the trust.
Who Is Considered the Owner of a Grantor Trust?
The grantor, also known as the owner, settlor, or trustor, is typically the person who creates the trust and contributes property (such as real estate), other funds, or even trust instruments, such as life insurance, to that trust. The trust property and the owner’s funds become part of the trust corpus (in other words, the trust’s assets).
Personal or familial trusts often have only one grantor, but can, along with business trusts, have two or more. For example, if more than one person had funded a grantor trust, each one will be treated as a grantor in proportion to the cash or property value they transferred to.
Suppose a resident of a foreign country is treated as the owner of the trust under the grantor trust rules. In contrast, that specific trust has a domestic civilian or resident as a beneficiary. In that case, the beneficiary will be treated as the trust’s grantor to the extent that the beneficiary made gifts (directly or indirectly) to the foreign owner, irrespective of gift tax applying.
Bear in mind that the grantor is the person who retains the power to control or direct the trust’s income or assets, and is allowed full discretionary protection as the grantor. It’s crucial to understand, especially when dealing with a foreign trust and the income tax consequences surrounding this instrument. Moreover, the owner can also be any person who creates a trust directly or indirectly and makes a gratuitous property transfer to a trust.
How Do I Toggle Grantor Trust Status?
One common question received when looking at IRC 675 is how to toggle a grantor trust status so that the trust will no longer be treated as a grantor trust..
Why would a grantor want to do this? Given that there are implications for income tax purposes of a foreign grantor trust, the grantor may deem it too burdensome to be liable for tax on the income attributable to the trust, year after year. Other common motives include keeping up with the tax rate that comes with their specific grantor trust, or for their own discretionary reasons. Therefore, to terminate the grantor trust status or toggle it off, the powers we explored above (which are often used to create the grantor trust status) must be released or terminated.
How is this done? One possibility this can be accomplished is by transferring power to a specific trustee or a third party, such as a trust protector.
Similarly, to turn the grantor trust status back on after it has been released, the powers released previously must be brought back and given to the previous grantor. This can be done by amending the trust instrument. However, it’s important to remember that a grantor or trustee should never approach this toggling of status flippantly and that professional advice and assistance should be engaged when going down this path.
New Responsibilities With Incorporation
If the grantor trust status terminates during the grantor’s lifetime, and the trust ceases to be a grantor trust, then the grantor is deemed to have transferred the assets to the trust at that time for federal income tax purposes. The question then becomes, does the grantor recognize a taxable transaction or a gain? Assume the trust has non-recourse liabilities to a third party secured by the trust’s assets. If that is true, the grantor will recognize the gain because the grantor will be deemed to have transferred the secured assets to the trust in exchange for a release of liability. In another scenario, the grantor may also recognize capital gain where the trust owes the debt to the grantor because the trust can be received the secured asset from the grantor in exchange for the promissory note to the grantor as of the date that the grantor trust status terminated. However, based on numerous court cases and tax law examples, there appears to be no gain recognized by either the trust or the grantor’s estate at the grantor’s death for income tax purposes.
We will be discussing more on the responsibilities within incorporation in later articles, such as gift tax implications, estate tax inclusion, and creating an irrevocable trust, and where the trust deed is drafted to trigger a certain status intentionally (such as an IDGT, which is an irrevocable trust set up by the owner for this particular purpose).