Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Win-Win Trust: Nevada Codifies Unitrust Conversion

Nevada Revised Statutes 164 was amended last year to allow for a trustee of an income trust to convert such a trust into a unitrust. A unitrust is a type of trust that allows for a trustee to distribute a percentage of total trust assets as opposed to all of the income. The advantage of a unitrust is that occasionally current income beneficiaries and remainder principal beneficiaries will be different individuals or entities. As such, the dichotomy of beneficiary classes can result in competing interests over how the assets should be invested: current income versus long-term growth. For instance, it is not farfetched to assume that each class would prefer that the assets be invested in a manner that will maximize their return, which isn’t always possible.

For example, income beneficiaries likely want the trustee to invest in more aggressive assets that may maximize income but put underlying principal at risk. On the other hand, the remainder principal beneficiaries will typically prefer a more conservative asset mix invested for growth to maximize their return; but, this form of investment typically results in a lower income yield. By allowing the trustee to distribute a share of the total assets regardless of income earned or principal growth, the trustee can invest the assets in a way that benefits both classes. Moreover, a unitrust arrangement provides for a reduced degree of scrutiny from the previously competing interest beneficiaries, thus, making it easier for a trustee to make investment decisions.

Special attention should be paid to NRS 164.797-799 to ensure that the proper legal formalities are adhered to in converting an income trust to a unitrust. For instance, if trust agreement strictly prohibits such a conversion, it is not allowed. On the other hand, if the trust instrument is silent on the matter, conversion is allowed. Both beneficiaries and trustees are able to initiate the process of conversion. Thus, given the new language codified in NRS 164, it may be appropriate to review your or your clients’ trust documents to determine whether conversion to a unitrust is appropriate. However, keep in mind that if a conversion is done that doesn’t resolve beneficiary discord, NRS 164 also allows for a unitrust to be reconverted back into a non-unitrust trust (NRS 164.799).

 - Attorney Jeremy Cooper

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