What Is a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)?

Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) DefinitionGrantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) Definition

Key Takeaways

  • A GRAT can significantly reduce or eliminate gift/estate taxes on transferred assets.
  • Assets transferred to a GRAT can grow tax-free before passing to beneficiaries.
  • A GRAT allows you to transfer wealth while retaining some control.
  • Proper setup is critical to achieving tax minimization goals.
  • A GRAT involves complex rules; professional advice is critical.

How Does a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Work?

A Grantor Retained Trust (GRAT) is a legal entity used for estate planning to minimize taxes on financial gifts to family members. Here's how it operates:

  • Creation of the Trust: The grantor (the individual who owns the assets) establishes the GRAT by placing selected assets into an irrevocable trust.
  • Annuity Payments: The trust is set up for a predetermined period when the grantor receives fixed annuity payments. These payments are based on a percentage of the initial fair market value of the assets in the trust or a fixed amount determined at the start. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determines the interest rate used to calculate these payments, known as the Section 7520 rate.1
  • Transfer of Assets to Beneficiaries: After the set period expires, any assets remaining in the GRAT (the remainder interest) are passed to the beneficiaries. This transfer can potentially be tax-free or subject to minimal taxes, depending on the structure of the trust and the performance of the assets.
  • Tax Advantages: The gift tax applied to the transfer of assets into the GRAT is determined when the trust is established. However, this tax can be significantly less than the estate tax rate because the gift's value for tax purposes is reduced by the present value of the annuity payments the grantor is set to receive. If the assets grow at a rate higher than the IRS's assumed interest rate (the 7520 rate), the excess growth can be passed to the beneficiaries without any additional gift tax.
  • Risk Factors: If the grantor dies before the term of the GRAT ends, the value of the trust assets might be included in the grantor's estate and be subject to estate taxes. Also, if the assets in the GRAT do not appreciate as expected, there may be little to no tax advantage gained.

The GRAT must be appropriately structured to ensure compliance with tax laws and maximize its benefits. It's typically used by individuals with a taxable estate who wish to pass wealth on to the next generation without incurring significant taxes.

Consulting with a qualified estate planning attorney and financial advisor to fully understand the implications, costs, and benefits is crucial before deciding whether a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust is the right choice for you.

Remember, it is important to take the time to research using trusts within your estate plan thoroughly. You can use different types of trusts depending on your needs and financial situation. Consider all available options, evaluating your financial objectives, family, and personal preferences.

What are the types of GRATs?

Different types of Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs) are tailored to meet various estate planning objectives. Here are the common variations:

  • Standard: This is the basic form of a GRAT, where the grantor receives a fixed annuity amount each year. If the assets outperform the Section 7520 rate, the excess growth passes to the beneficiaries at the end of the trust term.
  • Zeroed-Out: Often designed to "zero out" so that there is no taxable gift upon creation. The annuity payments are calculated to return the original principal plus the IRS-assumed interest rate back to the grantor, with any excess passing to the beneficiaries tax-free.
  • Increasing Annuity: This type of GRAT is structured so that the annuity payments increase over time, up to 120% per year. This can be beneficial if the grantor anticipates that the trust assets will generate increasing income over the term of the GRAT.
  • Decreasing Annuity: Less common, this type involves annuity payments that decrease over the trust term. It might be used when the grantor expects the trust assets to decrease in income production over time.
  • Short-Term: Involves a short duration, often two to three years. It is designed to reduce the mortality risk (the risk that the grantor dies during the term of the GRAT) and to take advantage of short-term fluctuations in asset values.
  • Rolling or Cascading: This strategy involves creating a series of short-term GRATs successively. As each GRAT terminates, the assets are rolled into a new GRAT. This can be a way to hedge against the risk of a single GRAT failing due to poor asset performance.
  • Each type of GRAT has its specific uses and benefits depending on the grantor's assets, financial goals, and expectations for asset performance. The selection of a particular type of GRAT should be based on careful financial and legal analysis, often with the assistance of estate planning professionals.

How are GRAT Annuity Payments calculated?

GRAT annuity payments are calculated using several factors determined at the creation of the trust. Here's how the calculation process generally works:

  • Initial Trust Value: The value of the assets initially placed into the GRAT is appraised. This becomes the basis for calculating the annuity payments.
  • Annuity Payment Rate: The grantor chooses a fixed annuity payment rate, a percentage of the initial trust value. This rate will determine the annuity payment amount the grantor will receive each year.
  • Section 7520 Rate: The IRS issues a monthly Section 7520 rate (also known as the "hurdle rate"), used to calculate the present value of the annuity payments. The Section 7520 rate is based on the applicable federal rate (AFR) and represents the assumed rate of return on the trust assets.2
  • Term of the Trust: The grantor decides the term of the GRAT, which can be several years. The term is also used in the final annuity payment calculation because it affects the present value of the annuity stream.
  • Annuity Payment Schedule: The grantor chooses whether the annuity payments will be made annually, semi-annually, quarterly, or monthly. This will influence the compounding effect on the calculation.
  • Present Value Calculation: Using the above factors, the annuity payment is calculated so that the present value of the annuity stream over the term of the GRAT equals the initial fair market value of the assets transferred into the GRAT minus the present value of the remainder interest, which is the gift to the beneficiaries.

How are GRAT Annuity Payments taxed?

The taxation of annuity payments from a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) involves several considerations:

  • Income Tax: The annuity payments that the grantor receives annually from the GRAT are not subject to additional income tax because the grantor is considered to be acquiring their own assets back. The grantor has already paid income tax on the assets before transferring them into the GRAT.
  • Gift Tax: When the GRAT is established, the gift tax liability on the value of the annuity payments is calculated and subtracted from the total value of the assets transferred into the trust to determine the gift tax value of the remainder interest. This remainder interest may be subject to the gift tax; however, the grantor often applies their lifetime gift tax exemption to this amount to avoid paying gift tax at the time of the transfer.
  • Grantor Trust Rules: GRATs are typically structured as grantor trusts for income tax purposes, which means that the grantor is responsible for paying any income taxes on trust earnings during the GRAT term. The trust does not pay income tax; all of the income tax implications of the trust's income, deductions, and credits are reported on the grantor's personal income tax return.
  • Estate Tax: If the grantor survives the term of the GRAT, the assets remaining in the trust after the annuity payments are made pass to the beneficiaries without being subject to federal estate tax. However, if the grantor dies during the trust term, the value of the trust assets is included in the grantor's estate and may be subject to estate tax.
  • Capital Gains Tax: When annuity payments are made in-kind with appreciated assets rather than cash, there may be capital gains tax implications. However, because the grantor is essentially receiving their own property back, no capital gains tax is typically recognized on the receipt of the annuity. The beneficiaries may be subject to higher capital gains tax when they eventually sell the assets received from the GRAT, based on the original cost basis of the assets when they were contributed to the GRAT.

Given the complexity of GRATs and the various estate tax consequences and implications, consulting with a qualified tax advisor or an estate planning professional is important to understand how GRAT annuity payments will be taxed in your specific situation and ensure compliance with all applicable tax laws and regulations.

Pros: What are the Benefits of a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust?

A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) offers several benefits, particularly in the context of estate planning and tax minimization:

  1. Reduced Estate and Gift Taxes: A GRAT can effectively reduce or eliminate gift taxes on the transfer of assets to beneficiaries. This advantageous outcome is achieved by determining the value of the gift when the trust is created, typically when the assets have a lower value. By effectively transferring assets to the trust, the grantor removes them from their taxable estate, potentially reducing or eliminating future gift and estate taxes.
  2. Tax-Free Asset Growth: A GRAT allows for tax-free growth of the transferred assets within the trust. The trustee manages the investments within the trust, and any appreciation in value remains in the trust and is not considered part of the grantor's taxable estate. This tax-deferred growth significantly enhances the value of the assets ultimately passed on to the beneficiaries.
  3. Flexibility in Term Length: A GRAT offers flexibility in determining the term length, which can be tailored to the grantor's specific circumstances and financial goals. A longer-term allows for more significant asset growth within the trust, while a shorter term may be preferable for individuals seeking quicker transfer of assets to beneficiaries.
  4. Potential for Significant Tax Savings: A GRAT can generate substantial tax savings compared to traditional outright gifts. By effectively removing assets from the grantor's taxable estate and utilizing tax-free growth, a GRAT can minimize or eliminate gift and estate tax liability, resulting in a larger beneficiary inheritance.
  5. Estate Planning Tool for Non-Cash Assets: A GRAT is particularly beneficial for transferring non-cash assets, such as closely held stocks or real estate, that may have significant appreciation potential. The trust allows for transferring these assets without incurring immediate gift taxes, enabling tax-deferred growth and potential avoidance of future estate taxes.
  6. Strategic Wealth Transfer: A GRAT allows individuals to gradually transfer assets to beneficiaries while maintaining control over the trust assets during the term. This controlled approach ensures that the grantor continues to benefit from the assets while effectively reducing their taxable estate.

It's important to note that the effectiveness of a GRAT in providing these benefits is highly dependent on proper setup and administration, as well as the performance of the underlying assets.

Cons: What are the Drawbacks of a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust?

While a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) offers several benefits for estate planning, they also have some drawbacks:

  1. Irrevocable Nature: A GRAT is an irrevocable trust, meaning that the grantor cannot change the trust or reclaim the assets once created. This irrevocable nature requires careful consideration and planning to ensure the GRAT aligns with the grantor's long-term financial goals and estate planning objectives.
  2. Annuity Payment Obligation: The grantor must receive the specified annuity payments throughout the GRAT term. Failure to receive these payments could jeopardize the trust's tax-saving goals, potentially resulting in adverse tax consequences.
  3. Asset Selection and Performance: The success of a GRAT depends on the selection of assets with significant appreciation potential. If the assets within the trust underperform or depreciate in value, the GRAT may not achieve the desired tax-saving objectives.
  4. Tax Complexity: A GRAT involves complex tax implications, and their effectiveness hinges on the accurate valuation of the transferred assets and the selection of an appropriate annuity payment amount.
  5. Mortality Risk: For a GRAT to effectively remove assets from the grantor's taxable estate, the grantor must survive the entire term. If the grantor passes away before the end of the term, the assets revert to their estate and may be subject to estate taxes.
  6. Limited Control over Assets: During the GRAT term, the grantor has limited control over the assets within the trust. The trustee manages the investments and decides asset allocation and potential asset sales.
  7. Administrative Costs: Establishing and maintaining a GRAT involves administrative costs, including trustee fees, legal fees, and potential investment management fees. These costs should be factored into the overall assessment of a GRAT's effectiveness.

It's crucial to weigh the potential drawbacks against the benefits and consult with a qualified estate planning attorney and financial advisor to determine whether establishing a GRAT is right based on individual needs and circumstances.

How Much Does a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Cost?

Establishing a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) involves several costs, which can vary widely depending on the complexity of the estate, the attorney's fees, and the jurisdiction. While it's challenging to provide a precise cost without specific details, let's explore the general financial components:

  • Attorney's Fees: Legal fees might range from a few thousand dollars to several thousand for a straightforward GRAT. Attorney's fees can escalate substantially if the estate has numerous assets, diverse investments, or complex family considerations.
  • Trustee Fees: If a bank or a professional trustee manages the trust, fees could be a percentage of the trust's assets annually, often ranging from 0.5% to 2%. Costs for individual trustees might be lower but could still involve compensation and expenses related to trust management.
  • Administrative Costs: Costs associated with filing the trust documents with relevant authorities. Potential costs related to preparing and filing tax returns for the trust. Management of trust finances might involve accounting fees, especially if the estate is extensive or intricate.
  • Asset Management Fees: Investment advisory fees will apply if the trust's assets are actively managed. Property management fees may be incurred if real estate is held within the trust.
  • Ongoing Operational Costs: Managing and executing income distributions might have associated costs. Ensuring meticulous documentation and record-keeping might involve additional expenses, mainly if professional services are engaged.

Given the range and variability of costs involved in setting up and maintaining a GRAT, obtaining detailed estimates from attorneys, trustees, and other professionals is crucial before proceeding.

Is a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust Right for You?

Whether a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) is worth it depends on several individual factors and goals. Here are some considerations to help determine its value for your situation:

  • Estate Tax Savings: If you have a substantial estate subject to high estate taxes, a GRAT can help minimize this burden, potentially saving significant taxes.
  • Asset Appreciation: GRATs are most effective when the assets placed in the trust are expected to appreciate at a rate higher than the IRS's Section 7520 rate. For those with high-growth investments, GRATs can be very beneficial.
  • Asset Transfer Goals: If you're looking to transfer wealth to the next generation or a trust for their benefit tax-efficiently, a GRAT can be a strategic tool.
  • Current Interest Rates: The effectiveness of a GRAT is partly influenced by prevailing interest rates. In a low-interest-rate environment, GRATs are generally more advantageous.
  • Financial Stability: You should be financially stable without needing the principal of the assets transferred into the GRAT, as these assets are intended to pass to the beneficiaries eventually.
  • Health and Life Expectancy: Because the benefits of a GRAT are fully realized only if you outlive the term of the trust, your current health and life expectancy are crucial factors.
  • Costs and Complexity: The costs of setting up and administering a GRAT, including legal and advisor fees, must be weighed against the potential tax savings and benefits.
  • Risk Tolerance: You should be comfortable with the performance risk of the assets and the mortality risk associated with the GRAT.

A properly structured Grantor Retained Annuity Trust can be worth it if you have a large taxable estate, expect the trust assets to appreciate significantly, and meet the other conditions favorable for a GRAT. Since GRATs are sophisticated estate planning tools, seeking professional advice tailored to your situation is crucial before deciding.

Live More & Worry Less

Live More & Worry Less

We have financial professionals ready to assist you on your retirement journey.


  1. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - Section 7520 Interest Rates. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/section-7520-interest-rates.
  2. Applicable Federal Rates (AFRs). https://www.irs.gov/applicable-federal-rates.

Related Trust Articles


Information provided is general and educational in nature, and all products or services discussed may not be provided by Western & Southern Financial Group or its member companies (“the Company”). The information is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal or tax advice. The Company does not provide legal or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. The Company makes no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use. The Company disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information. Consult an attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.