Billionaire Sheldon Adelson is not alone in his disdain for estate taxes. As one of the world’s richest men, Adelson has the ability to hire top attorneys and advisors to employ financial and estate planning tools that ensure his estate pays little or no taxes. One of these tax avoidance tools is the Walton grantor retained annuity trust (“GRAT”). A recent article discusses the use of this popular trust.
Named after Walmart heir Audrey Walton, the Walton GRAT is a popular tool used by the wealthy to avoid estate taxes. Essentially, a Walton GRAT works by rapidly transferring large quantities of stock into a trust fund that requires that the initial investment be returned after two years. If the stock gains value while in the Walton GRAT, the additional value will be left over in the trust. The trust can then transfer the remaining value to a third party without incurring gift tax liability.
Recognizing this loophole, the government sued Audrey Walton for using a similar scheme in 1993. The court ruled in Walton’s favor, thereby legitimizing and nicknaming the Walton GRAT. Since then, many wealthy individuals – such as Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein – have benefited from their own use of the Walton GRAT.