A-B Trust

A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up an A-B Trust for Your Estate

In the realm of estate planning, A-B Trusts have emerged as a powerful tool to protect assets and minimize tax liabilities. By taking advantage of the unique provisions of this trust, individuals can secure their legacy and provide for their loved ones while optimizing tax benefits. This comprehensive guide delves into the nitty-gritty of A-B Trusts, unraveling their definition, functioning, and the tax advantages they offer.

A-B Trust: A Closer Look

What is an A-B Trust?

An A-B Trust, also known as a bypass trust or credit shelter trust, is a legal arrangement used in estate planning to reduce estate taxes upon the death of the first spouse. It splits a married couple’s assets into two distinct trusts – the “A” trust or the survivor’s trust, and the “B” trust or the bypass trust.

How Does an A-B Trust Work?

Upon the passing of the first spouse, their assets are divided between the A and B trusts based on the estate tax exemption limit. The “A” trust holds the surviving spouse’s share and is not subject to estate tax. Meanwhile, the “B” trust, which becomes irrevocable upon the first spouse’s death, preserves the deceased spouse’s assets and ensures they are not counted in the surviving spouse’s estate. This arrangement protects the couple’s estate from excessive taxation.

Tax Benefits of an A-B Trust

A-B Trusts can offer several tax advantages, including:

  • Maximizing estate tax exemption: By utilizing both spouses’ estate tax exemptions, more wealth can be passed to heirs without incurring taxes.
  • Reduction of capital gains tax: Assets in the “B” trust receive a step-up in basis upon the surviving spouse’s death, potentially reducing capital gains taxes upon their eventual sale.
  • Protection against future tax law changes: An A-B Trust can shield assets from potential changes in tax laws, providing stability and security to beneficiaries.

How to Establish an A-B Trust

Step 1: Seek Professional Guidance

The complexities of A-B Trusts necessitate expert advice. Engage an experienced estate planning attorney and financial advisor to navigate through the process.

Step 2: Drafting the Trust Documents

The attorney will prepare the trust documents, clearly outlining the roles and responsibilities of the trustees and beneficiaries.

Step 3: Funding the Trusts

Transfer assets into the “A” and “B” trusts, ensuring proper titling and documentation.

Step 4: Managing the Trusts

The trustee, often the surviving spouse, must adhere to the terms of the trusts and make prudent financial decisions.

Step 5: Distribution of Assets

Upon the death of the surviving spouse, the assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the trusts.

A-B Trust vs. Other Estate Planning Strategies

A-B Trust vs. Revocable Living Trust

While both trusts avoid probate, an A-B Trust offers added tax advantages, making it preferable for larger estates.

A-B Trust vs. QTIP Trust

A QTIP Trust is suitable for blended families, whereas an A-B Trust benefits married couples seeking to maximize tax savings.

Common Misconceptions about A-B Trusts

1. Are A-B Trusts Only for the Wealthy?

Contrary to popular belief, A-B Trusts can be beneficial for individuals with moderately sized estates, especially considering potential tax law changes.

2. Can’t I Just Rely on the Unlimited Marital Deduction?

While the unlimited marital deduction allows spouses to transfer assets without incurring estate taxes, it fails to leverage both spouses’ estate tax exemptions fully.


What are the benefits of an A-B Trust?

An A-B Trust offers several benefits, including maximizing estate tax exemption, reducing capital gains tax, and protecting against future tax law changes.

Is an A-B Trust suitable for my estate size?

A-B Trusts can be advantageous for estates of varying sizes, and consulting an estate planning professional will help determine the best approach for your circumstances.

Can I amend an A-B Trust after its creation?

Once established, the “B” trust becomes irrevocable, and changes may not be possible. It is essential to plan carefully before setting up the trust.

What happens to the assets in the “B” trust after the surviving spouse’s death?

Upon the surviving spouse’s death, the assets in the “B” trust are distributed to the beneficiaries as per the trust’s terms.

Are A-B Trusts still relevant with changing tax laws?

While tax laws may evolve, A-B Trusts remain a valuable tool in estate planning, offering potential benefits and flexibility for future generations.

Can A-B Trusts be dissolved?

In some cases, under certain circumstances, it may be possible to modify or terminate an A-B Trust with court approval.

How do A-B Trusts protect assets from creditors?

Assets in an irrevocable “B” trust are generally shielded from creditors, providing additional protection for beneficiaries.

Are there any downsides to using an A-B Trust?

A-B Trusts may involve complex administration, and their setup costs can be higher compared to simpler estate planning strategies.

Can an A-B Trust be combined with other trusts?

Yes, an A-B Trust can be combined with other trusts or estate planning tools to create a comprehensive and tailored approach.

Do both spouses need separate A-B Trusts?

An A-B Trust functions as a single unit, splitting assets based on the estate tax exemption limit, regardless of which spouse originally owned the assets.

Can I avoid estate taxes entirely with an A-B Trust?

While an A-B Trust can substantially reduce estate taxes, completely avoiding estate taxes may not always be possible depending on the estate’s size and value.

Do all states recognize A-B Trusts?

A-B Trusts are recognized in most states, but it is essential to consult local laws and regulations for specific requirements.

What is the role of the trustee in an A-B Trust?

The trustee oversees the administration of the trust, manages the assets, and ensures compliance with the trust’s terms for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Can I change the beneficiaries of the A-B Trust?

The beneficiaries of an A-B Trust are generally predetermined, but it may be possible to change beneficiaries under specific circumstances and with legal guidance.

Are A-B Trusts suitable for unmarried couples or domestic partners?

A-B Trusts are designed for married couples. Unmarried couples or domestic partners may consider other estate planning options tailored to their unique circumstances.


A-B Trusts offer an intelligent and powerful approach to estate planning, presenting a myriad of advantages for married couples seeking to preserve their assets and secure the future for their loved ones. By thoughtfully implementing this trust, individuals can navigate the complex landscape of estate taxes while ensuring a seamless transfer of wealth to the next generation. With the guidance of seasoned professionals and a comprehensive understanding of the trust’s mechanics, A-B Trusts can serve as a cornerstone in building a legacy that stands the test of time.

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