The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides our nation’s veterans with important benefits after they have been discharged from service. In order to qualify for those benefits, veterans must meet certain requirements. For some veterans, it may be necessary to transfer assets into an irrevocable trust to lower his or her net worth.
Qualifying for Pension
The Veterans Pension benefit is a tax-free, monetary benefit for low-income veterans. In order to qualify, the following requirements must be met:
1. Veteran must be 65 years of age or older or permanently and totally disabled;
2. He or he must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable;
3. He or she must have served, which generally involves a minimum period of active duty service, one day of which was during wartime;
4. Net worth must not be considered too substantial; and
5. Countable family income must be below the yearly limit as set by law.
Veterans who are concerned about their level of net worth may consider forming an irrevocable trust. By creating an irrevocable trust, net worth can be reduced in order to qualify for the Veterans Pension. The VA does not assess a penalty for transferring assets as long as that transfer occurs prior to filing a claim or notifying the VA of an intent to file a claim. The determination of net worth is subjective—the VA has discretion in determining whether a veteran’s assets are too large to qualify for the Veterans Pension.
An irrevocable trust can be used to hold assets that are provided by a veteran in order to reduce net worth. Importantly, a veteran claiming benefits (as well as his or her spouse) cannot be an income or principal beneficiary of the trust established in order to obtain VA benefits. This is because the VA requires that the rights to property and income from that property be actually relinquished to be considered a reduction of net worth.
A second issue relates to whether to form the trust as a grantor trust or a non-grantor trust. The VA compares income reported to it with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income records through a process called Income Verification Match (IVM). Due to the nature of a grantor trust, there may be a discrepancy between income reported to the VA and income that appears with IRS filings.
Under a grantor trust, all items within the trust are taxed to the grantor on his or her personal income tax return. Ordinarily, the grantor is the person who funds the trust, which, in this case, is the veteran claiming benefits. The VA may assume that the tax reported on the veteran’s tax return is based on income of the veteran, which may lead to lower (or complete denial of) benefits. Therefore, a non-grantor trust, in which the trust is responsible for any tax, is likely more desirable, in an attempt to avoid this potential issue.
Forming a Trust
If you would like more information on the formation of a trust, reach out to a skilled Illinois estate planning attorney today. Our firm proudly helps individuals in the communities of Inverness, Schaumburg, Palatine, Arlington Heights, Kenilworth, Long Grove, Riverwoods, Barrington, South Barrington, and Mount Prospect. We look forward to hearing from you.
About the Author:Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.