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Living Trusts 101 For Short-Term Rental Owners: Everything You Need to Know A-Z

If you own Short-Term Rentals, Airbnb’s or other real estate, there are two things big priorities you should address when it comes to protecting yourself:

  1. Estate Planning
  2. Asset Protection Planning

The problem is that none of us like to think about asset protection or estate planning until it’s too late. When it comes to estate planning and asset protection, if you are setting things up the right way, the Living Trust can play an important role to achieve both goals.

Estate Planning For Short-Term Rental Owners

Anytime someone dies, if they fail to have a will or trust to establish their wishes or legacy plans, the State laws take over and tell their estate who will receive what. Let’s examine three ways assets pass upon death and their pros and cons:

  1. Die Intestate – this legal terms refers to someone who dies without a will or trust in place. If this situation takes place, your estate will be forced into probate court. The worst part about this situation is that not only is it extremely expensive and the lawyers make a lot of money, you also have a judge deciding what to do with your money and assets when you pass. If you have multiple assets in different states, you have to go through probate proceedings in each state, which is expensive and unfair. This is the worst option of all. Avoid this at all cost!
  2. Die With A Will – if you die with a will in place, at least you have made known your intentions regarding what should be done with your assets. The problem is that all a will does in most states is force your estate into probate proceedings. Which means what? Lawyers make a lot of money, the value of the estate is drained and you still have to go through the legal proceedings and become the target of some family member contesting the will or claiming you didn’t have the legal capacity or you lost your mind because you didn’t give them more money. The other negative is that everything is in public record for everyone to see. This scenario is not ideal for larger estates where conflict can arise amongst heirs.
  3. Living Trust – a living trust is the ideal option for estate planning. A living trust is NEVER subject to probate and is always private: No judges and no public spectacle. The living trust can be perpetual and create a legacy plan that helps avoid will contests or other challenges to your estate.

How Does A Living Trust Work? When setting up a living trust, there are three parties to a trust:

  1. Settlor or Grantor – the person who funds the trust;
  2. Trustee – the person responsible for administering the trust and has a fiduciary duty to act on behalf of the beneficiaries. In practice, the trustee only has to have the death certificate and the certificate of trust. This provides the trustee the authority to execute all transactions and business on behalf of the trust and beneficiaries.
  3. Beneficiary – the party or parties that receive the benefits of the trust provisions.

With a living trust, from an estate planning perspective, you can play the role of all 3 parties: You can fund the trust, control the trust, and execute the assets for your benefit. When you die, your trust can then assign the beneficiaries and trustee according to your wishes in the trust provisions.

Living Trusts are also revocable – meaning, you can change the provisions at any time and make whatever modifications you wish.

Flexibility provided with a Living Trust – You can set up a trust for the health, education, maintenance and support of the beneficiaries until a certain period of time. This helps make sure you are not dumping money and assets on beneficiaries who are not ready to handle it!  In other words, you can put conditions on the living trust – until they turn 30 or graduate from college or any other condition.

Asset Protection Planning For Short-Term Rental Owners

We have examined how Living Trusts are important for estate planning, but do they play a role in your asset protection structure? Now, why does this matter? Remember, if you own Short-term rentals or Airbnb’s or other rental properties, these are labeled high-risk assets because guests are coming in and out of your properties daily.  It is important to have a strategy to protect your personal assets and net worth from a lawsuit that could arise out of a slip and fall or other premises liability even at your rental.

At STR Law Guys, we provide the PAPR Plan Limited Partnership holding company strategy.  Under this holding company strategy, the living trust can play the role of the limited partner in the Limited Partnership. Let’s take a few minutes to examine this further.

Remember, the PAPR Plan LP holding company strategy includes 3 elements (similar to a real estate syndication):

  1. Limited Partnership is used as the holding company, rather than an LLC. We prefer the Arizona Limited Partnership statute for asset protection. All limited partnerships are comprised of two partners.
  2. General Partner WY LLC – the general partner in a limited partnership is the active and liable partner in the relationship. As such, we recommend the asset protection strategy provide that the General Partner Wyoming LLC own 1% of the short-term rental portfolio. By establishing a Wyoming LLC as the general partner, you achieve personal privacy. Wyoming LLC law keeps your name off the entire asset protection structure so that you become a smaller target.
  3. Limited Partner Living Trust – the limited partner in a limited partnership is the passive and non-liable partner in the relationship. We recommend that a Revocable Living Trust be set up as the limited partner in the PAPR Plan and own 99% of the short-term rental portfolio. Under Arizona law, the limited partner is always private and not available under public record.
  4. LP Living Trust owns 99% of all the assets in the limited partnership and under the Arizona limited partnership statute, the law allows the living trust Limited Partner to sever the relationship with the General Partner in a “crisis event,” which includes a lawsuit. This strategy allows you to diversify risk and segregate your assets from the rental property being sued.

The use of a Living Trust can serve as both an estate planning tool and a critical Limited Partner role in an asset protection structure that helps protect your assets from creditors and predatory lawsuits.  To learn more about the PAPR Plan and other asset protection strategies for short-term rental owners, watch the video on this page or visit our YouTube Channel!

How Trusts Protect Your Short-Term Rental Properties

Trusts have long been seen as an effective tool for asset protection and estate planning. However, many short-term rental investors have been confused over how a trust should be incorporated into an asset protection strategy that provides protection, flexibility, and control. We will take a few minutes to unpack the concept of how a trust can provide you protection and control over your short-term rental assets.

Foreign Asset Protection Trusts

Let me start by saying, not everyone needs the protection of a foreign asset protection trust. If you are a short-term rental investor that is working a W-2 job and is considering your purchase of your first short-term rental property, a foreign asset protection trust makes no sense. Why? Because they are complicated to set up, maintain and are a significant investment designed to protect individuals with a well-developed portfolio of high-risk assets. The being said, it is important to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a foreign asset protection trust:

What are the advantages of a foreign asset protection trust? The biggest advantage of a foreign asset protection trust is that they work! There is numerous case law establishing that creditor attacks from the IRS, FTC, and SEC have failed to penetrate the protection provided in a properly established foreign asset protection trust in a favorable jurisdiction.

Although there are many jurisdictions you can consider for a foreign asset protection trust, the oldest and most established jurisdiction is the Cook Islands. The first foreign asset protection trust legislation was introduced with the Cook Islands Trust Act in 1984. This foreign legislation provided statutory non-recognition of any other jurisdictions judgments, including the United States. In other words, if a judgment is brought against you and the creditor attempts to attack a Cook Islands trust, the judgment will be worthless!

In the United States, attorneys like to start with a fishing expedition by filing a lawsuit and amending their filings against the defendant. This allows them to fish into the claim and figure out which legal argument is strongest in court. However, if you bring a judgment in the Cook Islands, you are required to start your case over from the beginning if you amend your filings. This can create a significant deterrent for creditors and attorneys attacking your trust.

The burden of proof in court for a plaintiff’s attorney suing a Cook Islands Trust is beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, a suing attorney attacking a foreign asset protection trust must prove their case at the same level as a prosecutor proving a murder trial! Additionally, the Cook Islands do not allow attorneys to take contingency fees for lawsuits. This is critical because this will require to pay the attorney out of their own pocket on an hourly rate with little chance of success in trial.

What if you lose in trial when attacking a foreign asset trust in the Cook Islands? Loser of the lawsuit must pay the costs and fees of the winner! Another deterrent to bringing a lawsuit in the Cook Islands is that the statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit is short and most attorneys will never attack a Cook Islands Trust because it is too expensive and too risky.

What are the disadvantages of a foreign asset protection trust? They are expensive! It can easily cost $50,000 – $75,000 or more to set up a foreign asset protection trust and usually requires a minimum of $10,000 per year to maintain it. The Internal Revenue Service also requires you to file Form 3520 and 3520A each year with full disclosure of assets and the role of the trustees. If the assets are moved offshore, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) applies, and additional reporting requirements will exist for IRS compliance. Finally, the biggest drawback of a foreign asset protection trust is that you lose control of the trust assets because the foreign trustee will have legal title to the assets. This is a big negative! You want to maintain both protection and control over your short-term rental assets!

Domestic Asset Protection Trusts

Another option to consider is the use of a Domestic Asset Protection Trust to protect your short-term rental properties. The first Domestic Asset Protection Trust was established by Alaska in 1998. The statute emulated the Cook Islands Trust Act and attempted to provide similar protection. Subsequently, nineteen states have added a similar protection: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Indiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

What are the advantages of a domestic asset protection trust? The biggest advantage is that they are cost effective and state and federal compliance is much easier than a foreign asset protection trust.

What are the disadvantages of a domestic asset protection trust? They do not work! The idea of a domestic asset protection trust was good in theory but presents challenges due to the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution. States are required to give full faith and credit to the laws, judicial proceedings, and judgments of other states. An Alaska domestic asset protection trust may claim to provide protection against a California judgment against a short-term rental property, but in reality, these states must respect a California judgment based upon the Constitution.

Under Section 10 of the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act, the home state of the asset controls in court. As such, using a preferrable state’s domestic asset protection trust provides little protection if your short-term rental is located in a different state. Additionally, Section 548e of the Bankruptcy Code provides a creditor the ability to obtain assets transferred to a self-settled trust within 10 years of its origination. As such, the older a trust is, the more protection it provides.

Finally, California has ruled that merely setting up a domestic asset protection trust has been ruled as evidence of a fraudulent transfer. In other words, a California court ruled that merely attempting to protect your assets in a domestic asset protection trust must have been done solely to perpetuate a fraud against a creditor.

Hybrid Trust

The ideal scenario would be to establish a trust that blends the best of both a domestic structure (cost effectiveness, control, and easy maintenance) and a foreign domestic asset protection trust (protection). This ideal scenario can be achieved through a hybrid trust.

A hybrid trust is achieved by establishing a foreign asset protection trust from the beginning that is linked to a domestic asset protection trust. This structure allows the domestic trust to be a simple grantor trust for tax purposes but stands ready to provide total protection in the event of a lawsuit as a foreign asset protection trust.

How is this achieved? The foreign asset protection trust is established and registered offshore and linked back into the United States by the IRS as a domestic grantor trust. Under I.R.C. 7701(a)(30)(e), a two-part test was established by the IRS in order for this structure to be effective. It requires: (1) A U.S. jurisdiction (court) must have the primary supervision over the trust AND (2) control of the trust by the trustee must be vested in one or more United States persons.

The hybrid trust structure allows you to have the control and flexibility of a domestic trust, coupled with the compliance and protection of a foreign trust. In practice, here is how it works:

Pre-lawsuit – a United States jurisdiction is established for the trust. If you reside in one of the nineteen states with a domestic asset protection trust statute, you can easily establish a trust in that state. If not, a Nevada domestic asset protection trust can be established and referenced in the foreign asset protection trust.

Pre-lawsuit, the trust is nothing more than a simple grantor trust and disregarded for tax purposes. This allows you to continue to take advantage of all the tax benefits as a short-term rental owner. Additionally, you can maintain control of the hybrid trust pre-lawsuit by being the trustee and remaining tax neutral. Prior to a lawsuit, you have minimal IRS compliance issues: No IRS Form 3520 or 3520A, No IRS FATCA Disclosures, No other IRS filing requirements. All trust assets remain in the United States in a local bank and no requirements exist for an active foreign trustee.

Post-Lawsuit – a creditor or personal injury brings a lawsuit against your short-term rental property. What now? The foreign asset protection trust assigns the trustee the power to declare an event of duress. The special successor trustee in the foreign jurisdiction becomes co-trustee of the trust and can now remove the local trustee (YOU) because you are in a jurisdiction where the event of duress occurred. At this point, the foreign trustee can take steps to protect the assets, including the establishment of foreign bank accounts, selling, and leveraging assets for protection.

Trust Planning With Your Short-Term Rental Asset Protection Plan

By combining LLC, LP and Trust entities to create a custom and comprehensive asset protection strategy, you maintain control over your assets, while ensuring a hybrid trust provides ultimate protection in the event of a lawsuit. Essentially, you control your Limited Partnership, and your hybrid trust owns your limited partnership.

An additional benefit of this strategy is the estate planning value it provides to you and your family. In the event you die, all your trust assets would pass through your living trust to your beneficiaries. This strategy allows you to avoid costly litigation in probate court and a smooth transition of your wealth to your designated heirs, while maintaining maximum estate tax exemptions under the law.

If you are sued or attacked by a creditor, the hybrid trust (listed as your limited partner in your Limited Partnership holding company) makes a unilateral withdrawal from the partnership, allowing a severance of the relationship and an additional layer of protection for your assets.