A/B Trusts

Securing Your Legacy Through Smart Estate Planning


Estate planning is a critical aspect of financial management, ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. Among the various estate planning tools available, the A/B Trust, also known as a Credit Shelter Trust or Bypass Trust, stands out as a valuable strategy for married couples seeking to maximize their estate’s value and minimize estate taxes. In this article, we’ll explore what an A/B Trust is, how it works, and why it’s an essential component of many comprehensive estate plans.

What is an A/B Trust?

An A/B Trust is a type of irrevocable trust that allows married couples to divide their estate into two separate trusts upon the death of one spouse. The trust is designed to make the most of each spouse’s applicable estate tax exemption, ultimately reducing the overall estate tax burden for the couple’s heirs. It’s named “A/B” because it creates two separate trusts, often referred to as the “A Trust” and the “B Trust.”

How Does an A/B Trust Work?

The core principle behind an A/B Trust is to leverage both spouses’ estate tax exemptions effectively. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Establishment: The A/B Trust is set up as part of the couple’s estate plan while both spouses are alive and well.
  2. Ownership Structure: The trust is typically divided into two parts – the “A Trust” and the “B Trust.” The “A Trust” is often referred to as the “Marital Trust,” while the “B Trust” is known as the “Family Trust.”
  3. Funding: Upon the death of the first spouse, the couple’s assets are divided between the two trusts based on a predetermined formula. Usually, the “Marital Trust” (A Trust) receives an amount equal to the federal estate tax exemption, while the rest of the assets go into the “Family Trust” (B Trust).
  4. Marital Trust (A Trust): The surviving spouse is typically the primary beneficiary of the Marital Trust and can receive income from the trust, as well as, in some cases, access to principal for specific purposes, such as health and education expenses.
  5. Family Trust (B Trust): This trust is designed to benefit the couple’s heirs, such as children or other designated beneficiaries. The surviving spouse can also receive income from the Family Trust, but there are usually restrictions on accessing the principal.
  6. Estate Tax Benefits: By dividing the assets in this way, each spouse effectively uses their estate tax exemption, reducing the overall taxable estate. This can result in significant estate tax savings for the couple’s heirs.

Why Consider an A/B Trust?

There are several compelling reasons to consider implementing an A/B Trust as part of your estate plan:

  1. Estate Tax Reduction: A/B Trusts are an effective tool for minimizing estate taxes, allowing you to leave more of your wealth to your heirs.
  2. Asset Protection: Assets placed in the Family Trust (B Trust) are typically protected from the surviving spouse’s creditors, ensuring that they remain intact for the intended beneficiaries.
  3. Control: A/B Trusts provide a structured way to control how your assets are distributed, ensuring your wishes are followed even after your passing.
  4. Preservation of Wealth: By preserving more of your wealth through tax savings, you can provide for your surviving spouse and future generations more effectively.


In the realm of estate planning, an A/B Trust is a powerful strategy for married couples looking to preserve and protect their wealth. By leveraging the tax benefits and asset protection features of this trust structure, couples can ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes while minimizing the impact of estate taxes. However, it’s essential to consult with legal and financial professionals when considering an A/B Trust, as the specifics of trust laws and estate tax regulations can vary by jurisdiction and change over time.

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