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How Can Swap Powers Preserve Wealth for Future Generations? By Eric P. Zeitlin

Swap powers within intentionally defective grantor trusts (IDGTs) are critical estate planning tools that may help you improve tax efficiency today while allowing you to preserve wealth for generations to come.

An IDGT is an irrevocable trust that you, the grantor, can create during life to pass assets and wealth to your named beneficiaries outside of your taxable estate. Although the assets you transfer to the IDGT are considered completed gifts for gift and estate tax purposes, you retain certain powers for which you are responsible for paying taxes on all of the trust’s income and gains. This means that the income tax you pay each year on trust income comes out of your estate free of gift and estate taxes rather than from the trust, which may continue to grow at a tax-free rate of return. The challenge with this strategy, however, is that assets held in the trust will not receive a step up in cost basis when you pass away, as would be the case if the assets remained in your taxable estate. To help mitigate this risk, you may employ swap powers.

Swap powers allow grantors to exchange or substitute low-cost-basis assets held in a grantor trust for high-basis assets of equal value that is included in their taxable estates. With this type of swap, low-cost-basis assets transferred outside a trust receive a step up to fair market value on the date of the grantor’s death, thereby eliminating asset appreciation during the grantor’s life and beneficiaries’ exposure to capital gains tax on the sale of those assets in the future. Similarly, grantors may swap assets that have declined in value into a trust to help them preserve the loss in their taxable estates.

While swaps are not taxable events, grantors and trustees must take care to properly document all exchanges and ensure that the value of substituted property is equivalent. It is important to work with experienced advisors, including financial planners, accountants and valuation specialists, to ensure you properly establish your trust to allow for swap powers and accurately valuate assets to avoid any risks of unintended tax exposure.

About the Author: Eric P. Zeitlin is managing director of Provenance Wealth Advisors, an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs, and a registered representative with Raymond James Financial Services. For more information, call (954) 712-8888 or email

Provenance Wealth Advisors, 515 E. Las Olas Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954) 712-8888.

Eric P. Zeitlin is a registered representative of and offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC.

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