High-net-worth estate planning: When to consider advanced trusts in your plan

As your estate planning needs become more sophisticated, consider how special trusts may play a role in preserving your legacy and impact.

As your estate grows, so does the need for more comprehensive and customized estate planning solutions. Advanced trusts are one strategy that can help manage taxes, safeguard assets and help ensure your wishes are carried out after you’re gone.

In collaboration with your tax professional and estate lawyer, we will help you decide the appropriate approach for your unique needs, Here’s an overview of advanced trust solutions and their benefits and drawbacks:

In this article:

The benefits of a trust-based estate plan

At its simplest, a trust-based estate plan features a living trust to hold your assets during your lifetime. This allows you to retain income for yourself while you’re alive, but also provides an easier, faster and more private means of transferring those assets after you’re gone by avoiding probate.
For those with sizeable estates or more complex situations, trusts also offer multiple ways to preserve assets, reduce your taxable estate and leave a legacy for the people and causes you care about.

Learn more: An introduction to wills and trusts

Credit shelter trust (also known as a bypass trust, family trust or exemption trust)

Who it’s for

What it does



High-net-worth couples who are looking to manage estate taxes. 


Created after the death of the first spouse in a married couple.

Can benefit the surviving spouse during their lifetime, but assets are generally held apart from the surviving spouse’s estate so that they can eventually pass estate tax-free to the remaining beneficiaries.

Excess assets of the deceased spouse that don’t go into the credit shelter trust usually go to the surviving spouse using the marital deduction.

The surviving spouse may keep certain rights to the trust assets during their lifetime and may be able to tap into the income and the principal under specific circumstances.

Upon the surviving spouse’s death, the trust's assets are transferred to the remaining beneficiaries without any estate taxes levied.

May give the surviving spouse access to assets of the credit shelter trust.

The surviving spouse does not have control of the original estate because the assets are overseen by a trustee.



Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT)

Who it’s for

What it does



High net-worth couples who want to remove assets from their taxable estate while still maintaining some ability to use those assets.

Irrevocable trust where one spouse makes a gift into a trust to benefit the other spouse (and potentially other family members) while removing the assets from their combined estates.

Upon the death of the non-donor spouse, the trust assets are transferred to the remaining trust beneficiaries (often children or grandchildren) or they can remain in the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Allows married couples to take advantage of the historically high federal lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion while retaining some access to the assets should they be needed. If properly structured, the assets and any future appreciation are not included in the donor’s taxable estate.

Can be effective vehicles for multi-generational planning, to help shield assets from creditors and help lock in the current lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion.

May be beneficial for people who live in places with a state estate tax. SLATs can remove assets from an estate that could be affected by state taxes, even if they are likely not subject to the federal estate tax.

As an irrevocable trust, a SLAT can’t be changed by the donor once set up.

Generally, upon the non-donor spouse's death, the donor spouse will no longer have indirect access to the trust assets. However, special provisions can sometimes allow the donor spouse to access the trust’s assets.

 Learn more: Advanced estate planning: Strategies to reduce the taxable value of your estate

Qualified terminable interest property trust (QTIP)

Who it’s for

What it does



Blended families and grantors wanting more control over their assets after death.

Provide for the living expenses of a surviving spouse while ensuring children from a previous marriage are also provided for.

After the surviving spouse dies, the QTIP can distribute the remainder of the estate to the grantor’s children of the previous marriage.

Minimizes the decedent’s estate tax because the trust’s assets can qualify for the unlimited marital deduction.

Defers estate taxes until the death of the surviving spouse, when the trust’s assets will be included in their taxable estate.

Can include provisions that prevent the trust’s assets from being excessively drawn down during the surviving spouse's lifetime.

The surviving spouse generally does not have control over the trust.

Learn more: Strategies for unique estate planning situations

Special needs trust

Who it’s for

What it does



Individuals who have beneficiaries with special needs, such as a physical or mental disability.

Can help pay for expenses not covered by public assistance for those with a disability or chronic illness.

For a beneficiary with special needs, receiving an inheritance can potentially jeopardize eligibility for government benefits such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

A special needs trust avoids that possibility by providing only for qualified expenses — those not covered by federal or state benefits. A trustee makes those expense payments so that no money from the trust flows to the dependent directly, which could potentially affect government benefit eligibility.

Special needs trusts can be expensive to set up and maintain.


The beneficiary has no control over the trust and can only request funds from the trustee, who must ensure the request adheres to the trust’s purpose. As such, the selectin of the trustee and oversight of the trustee is critical to ensure your loved one’s needs are being met.

Dynasty trust (also known as a generation-skipping trust)

Who it’s for

What it does



High-net-worth individuals or families who want to benefit  multiple generations while controlling gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes.

A type of irrevocable trust aimed at benefiting multiple generations of a family.

Grantors can set rules for how the money is to be managed and distributed to beneficiaries.



Can last for many generations, helping to create a long-term legacy while reducing estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes, if structured properly.

Can protect trust assets from the beneficiaries’ creditors.

Can prevent a beneficiary’s spouse from receiving trust assets in case of a divorce.

A dynasty trust is an irrevocable trust, effectively removing control of the trust from you and your beneficiaries. The assets are overseen by a trustee, according to the provisions of the trust.

Even a currently valid dynasty trust has the potential to be invalidated by future trust laws, so it’s key for the trustee to be empowered to make changes to the trust should the need arise.


 Learn more: How to talk about estate planning with your loved ones

Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)

Who it’s for

What it does



High-net-worth individuals facing significant estate tax liability.

Especially popular with people who have rapidly appreciating assets, such as shares in a successful startup company.

Irrevocable trust that allows the trust’s creator to direct assets into a trust, freezing the value and removing added appreciation from their estate.

This allows the assets to pass to beneficiaries with reduced estate or gift tax liability.

During the term of the GRAT, the trust pays an annuity to the grantor, so that most of the assets moved into the GRAT are considered exchanged for the fair market value and are not subject to gift or estate tax implications. Only the calculated present value of the remainder benefit is subject to gift taxation.  

Any leftover assets can then be passed to beneficiaries, reducing the size of the grantor’s estate and the impact of future estate taxes.

Can reduce the amount of your lifetime gift tax exclusion amount utilized for lifetime gifts. Appreciation in the trust faster than the IRS assumed rate can be passed to children while not diminishing the grantor's lifetime exclusion from estate and gift taxes.

Should the grantor die before the end of the GRAT term, all trust assets are returned to the grantor’s estate and are counted for estate tax purposes. To address this, a “rolling GRAT” strategy can create a series of consecutive short-term GRATs with each successive GRAT funded by the previous trust’s annuity payments, minimizing the risk of the grantor passing away during the term.

The grantor loses control of and transfers assets sooner than they would have through their estate.  

The trust assets must appreciate faster than the assumed IRS rate for this strategy to be effective.  

Ameriprise Financial offers a broad range of trust services

If you have more complex or specialized needs, Ameriprise Financial offers a broad range of trust solutions and wealth management resources to help you meet your unique needs. These include professional consultation, trust management and trust administrative services.

Questions to discuss with us

  • How may a trust-based estate plan benefit me and my family?
  • Which types of trusts might I consider for my situation?
  • How can I reduce my taxable estate — and maintain control of my assets?