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What are the benefits of putting your farm land in a trust?

What are the benefits of putting your farm land in a trust?

| May 10, 2024

Setting up farm land in a trust can offer several benefits for farmers, depending on their specific circumstances and objectives. There are a number of reasons why farmers may choose to establish a trust for their farm land:

  1. Asset Protection: Placing farm land in a trust can provide a layer of asset protection from creditors, lawsuits, and potential claims. By transferring ownership to a trust, farmers can shield their land from certain legal liabilities and preserve it for future generations.

  2. Estate Planning: A trust can be an effective tool for estate planning, allowing farmers to designate beneficiaries and outline their wishes for the distribution of assets upon their death. This can help avoid probate, streamline the transfer of ownership, and mitigate estate taxes for their heirs.

  3. Avoiding Probate: Unlike assets held solely in an individual's name, assets held in a trust typically avoid probate, which is the legal process of validating a will and distributing assets upon death. By bypassing probate, farm land held in a trust can be transferred to beneficiaries more quickly and privately, without the delays and costs associated with probate proceedings.

  4. Continuity of Operations: Establishing a trust can help ensure continuity of farm operations and management by providing a structured plan for transitioning ownership and control to the next generation of farmers. This can help maintain stability and preserve the farm's legacy over time.

  5. Tax Planning Strategies: Trusts can offer tax advantages and flexibility in estate planning, allowing farmers to help mitigate estate taxes, capitalize on available tax deductions and credits, and optimize their overall tax strategy. Consultation with a tax advisor or estate planning attorney is essential to maximize tax benefits within the framework of a trust.

  6. Creditor Protection: In certain circumstances, holding farm land in a trust can offer protection against potential creditors seeking to seize assets to satisfy debts or judgments. However, the extent of creditor protection may vary depending on state laws and the specific terms of the trust.

  7. Control and Management: By establishing a trust, farmers can retain control and management of their farm land during their lifetime while still designating beneficiaries and outlining instructions for the future management of the land after their passing.

Several types of trusts can be suitable for holding land and farms, each offering different benefits and considerations. The choice of trust depends on factors such as the farmer's goals, estate planning objectives, tax implications, and preferences for control and management. Here are some common types of trusts used for land and farms:

  1. Revocable Living Trust: A revocable living trust allows farmers to retain control and ownership of their land during their lifetime while designating beneficiaries to inherit the property upon their death. This type of trust can help avoid probate, provide privacy, and allow for flexibility in managing and distributing assets.

  2. Irrevocable Trust: An irrevocable trust transfers ownership of the land to the trust, removing it from the farmer's estate and potentially reducing estate taxes. Irrevocable trusts can offer asset protection from creditors and lawsuits, as well as provide continuity of management and control for the farm.

  3. Generation-Skipping Trust: A generation-skipping trust allows farmers to transfer assets, including land and farms, to beneficiaries who are two or more generations below them, such as grandchildren. This type of trust can help mitigate estate taxes and preserve assets for future generations.

  4. Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT): A QPRT is a type of irrevocable trust specifically designed for holding residential property, but it can also be used for farmhouses or other residential structures on agricultural land. It allows farmers to transfer ownership of the residence to the trust while retaining the right to live in the property for a specified term, after which it passes to the beneficiaries.

  5. Land Conservation Trust: A land conservation trust, also known as a conservation easement, is a legal agreement that restricts certain land uses and development rights to protect natural resources, wildlife habitat, and agricultural lands. Farmers can donate or sell development rights to a land conservation trust, which can provide tax benefits and help preserve farmland for future generations.

  6. Family Limited Partnership (FLP): While not a trust, a family limited partnership is another estate planning tool that can be used to transfer ownership of farm land and assets to family members while retaining control and management. It allows farmers to leverage valuation discounts and facilitate the transfer of ownership over time.

  7. Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT): A charitable remainder trust allows farmers to transfer ownership of land or other assets to a trust, receive income from the trust for a specified period, and then donate the remaining assets to charity upon their death. This type of trust can provide tax benefits, income stream, and philanthropic impact.

When selecting a trust for land and farms, it's essential to consult with legal and financial advisors experienced in estate planning and trust administration to evaluate the options and determine the most suitable arrangement based on the farmer's goals and circumstances. Each type of trust has unique features, benefits, and implications, so careful consideration and planning are crucial to ensure that the trust meets the farmer's objectives and protects their agricultural legacy.

One type of trust that has become more popular recently is a Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT). This is a type of irrevocable trust established by one spouse (the grantor) for the benefit of the other spouse (the beneficiary), typically with the intention of providing financial support for the beneficiary spouse while also removing assets from the grantor's taxable estate.

Here's how it generally works:

  1. Establishment: The grantor (the spouse creating the trust) establishes the SLAT and transfers assets, including a farm or other property, into the trust.

  2. Beneficiary Spouse's Access: The beneficiary spouse (the non-grantor spouse) typically has access to the income and, in some cases, the principal of the trust during their lifetime. The terms of the trust dictate the extent of the beneficiary spouse's access and control over the trust assets.

  3. Tax Implications: By placing assets into the SLAT, the grantor can remove those assets from their taxable estate, potentially reducing estate taxes upon their death. However, because the beneficiary spouse has access to the trust assets, they are included in the beneficiary spouse's estate for estate tax purposes.

  4. Creditor Protection: Assets held in a properly structured SLAT may be protected from creditors, lawsuits, and claims against the beneficiary spouse. This can be an important consideration for asset protection and preserving wealth.

  5. Trustee: A trustee, often a trusted family member, advisor, or professional trustee, is responsible for managing the trust assets according to the terms of the trust document and for distributing income and principal to the beneficiary spouse as specified.

  6. Irrevocable Nature: Once established, a SLAT is typically irrevocable, meaning that the grantor relinquishes control over the trust assets. However, the grantor may still indirectly benefit from the trust through distributions to the beneficiary spouse.

It's important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney and financial advisor when considering a SLAT or any other estate planning strategy. They can help ensure that the trust is structured properly to achieve your goals, comply with legal requirements, and maximize the potential benefits for you and your spouse.

Overall, setting up farm land in a trust can provide farmers with financial confidence, stability, and a structured plan for the preservation and succession of their agricultural assets. However, it's essential to consult with legal and financial advisors experienced in estate planning and trust administration to tailor a trust arrangement that aligns with the farmer's goals and objectives.


*Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation.

2024-174962 Exp. 5/26