Understanding Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust

Learn how an intentionally defective grantor trust could be the key to your effective estate planning strategy. Get insights from Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC.


What Are Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts 

Estate planning involves various strategies to minimize tax liabilities and ensure the smooth transfer of assets to beneficiaries. One such strategy is the Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT). 

A trust is a legal arrangement that a grantor creates to hold assets for the benefit of beneficiaries. The estate trustee manages and distributes assets placed in the trust according to the instructions outlined in the trust document.

An IDGT is created as a grantor trust, but with a purposeful flaw. That flaw allows the trust maker to continue paying the taxes on the trust’s assets, reducing the tax burden on the estate. 

If you are considering sophisticated estate planning strategies for yourself or on behalf of a family member, keep reading. We will delve into the fundamentals of IDGTs, their unique tax treatment, and the benefits they offer in estate planning.

In any case, an IDGT should be established with the close involvement of a qualified estate planning attorney. This is because the language chosen and the related practical considerations are essential to the trust’s efficacy.

As a client of Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, you will receive timely cost-effective legal services. With decades of estate planning legal experience, we know how to develop and execute strategies that produce the desired outcomes for our clients.

Understanding the Basics of IDGTs

There are different types of trusts. An IDGT is a specialized type of trust that combines the advantages of both grantor trusts and irrevocable trusts. A grantor trust is a trust in which the grantor owns the trust property and assets for income and estate tax purposes. The purpose of an irrevocable trust is to move the assets from the grantor’s control to the control of the named beneficiary. 

An IDGT is created as an irrevocable trust, meaning the grantor usually gives up control and ownership of the assets. Typically, this means the trust creator is also relinquished of the responsibility of paying taxes for those assets. Unfortunately, that also means the beneficiaries of the trust must pay taxes on the trust’s income and assets. 

In this context, “defective” refers to specific tax implications. The intentionally defective aspect of the trust comes into play when it is treated as a grantor trust for income tax purposes. That means that the grantor continues to pay income taxes on the trust’s assets despite not being the trust’s beneficiary.

Features of an IDGT

The key feature of an IDGT is its unique tax treatment. While the grantor retains the responsibility and pays income taxes on the income generated by the assets held in the trust, the trust assets of an IDGT are excluded from the grantor’s estate for estate tax purposes. This allows for significant tax savings and wealth preservation.

Overall, benefits of IDGT can include:

  • Reducing the size of taxable estate
  • Protecting the trust beneficiaries by not burdening them with the trust’s payment of income taxes
  • Preserving the trust property while it continues to rise in value

How IDGTs Work

The structure of an IDGT allows the grantor to transfer assets to the trust. That can be done by gift or sale. Gifting an asset, however, could trigger a gift tax. That’s why assets are often partially given as gifts and partially sold. 

The grantor can also transfer the assets to the trust by selling them. The amount of the asset transfer lowers the value of the grantor’s estate. The asset is sold at a fair market value. In exchange, the grantor gets a promissory note called an installment note. This note will pay interest for the period of time that is necessary and keep the trust above-market. As a result, these interest payments can ease the tax burden that will remain with the grantor. 

Furthermore, since the trust is purchasing the asset for a fair market value, the grantor is not considered to be giving a taxable gift to the trust. As with any other sale, the trust pays interest to the grantor on the note. 

Common Misconceptions

Despite the benefits and effectiveness of IDGTs, some misconceptions surround this estate planning tool.

IDGTs are often thought to be complex and only suitable for the ultra-wealthy. But, while IDGTs are sophisticated estate planning strategies, they can be beneficial for individuals with significant assets looking to reduce estate tax liabilities.

Another common misconception about IDGTs is that they are illegal or unethical tax loopholes. In reality, IDGTs are legal and widely used estate planning tools that leverage existing provisions within the tax code. 

However, it is essential to note that risks are also associated with them. For example, there are risks associated with potential changes in tax laws. Tax laws are constantly changing, and future changes may impact IDGT’s effectiveness. Regular reviews and consultations with an attorney can mitigate this risk.

It is also possible to lose control of trust assets. An IDGT is an irrevocable trust, meaning the grantor relinquishes control of its assets. This loss of control should be carefully considered and weighed against tax savings and wealth preservation.  

Tax Implications of Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts

Navigating the tax landscape with an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT) reveals a blend of complexity and strategic advantage. Primarily, the grantor retains income tax responsibility on trust assets, a setup that might seem daunting yet serves to lower the estate’s taxable value. Indeed, while the trust’s assets grow, potentially escaping estate taxes, the grantor’s payment of the income taxes enhances the beneficiaries’ inheritance without additional gift tax consequences.

Moreover, the utilization of IDGTs in estate planning offers an intriguing benefit: any asset sales to the trust are free of income tax, as transactions are considered owner-to-trust transfers, maintaining the grantor’s tax identity. This alignment with current tax laws underscores the importance of precise planning and legal advice to exploit these advantages fully.

Understanding these tax nuances is vital for law firms advising clients on estate planning, as it ensures a robust, legally compliant strategy that optimizes financial benefits.

Setting Up an IDGT: A Step-By-Step Guide


It is essential to determine if you are eligible for establishing an IDGT. Typically, high-net-worth individuals with assets exceeding the estate tax exemption threshold are prime candidates for utilizing an IDGT.

It is important to consult an estate planning attorney for assistance in determining eligibility and gathering the necessary documents, such as trust agreements, asset transfers, and other legal instruments.

The Process

When setting up a trust, it is essential to decide how you want to set up the trust and what assets should be put in a trust. Creating an IDGT requires intentionally drafting a trust document that contains language and provisions that establish the intentionally defective nature of the trust. 

A skilled estate planning attorney will know how to draft the IDGT documents, including the trust agreement and any necessary ancillary documents.


After establishing the IDGT, you need to understand the ongoing responsibilities and requirements. This may include annual filings, tax reporting, and compliance with any other legal obligations.

Regularly reviewing the terms and provisions of the IDGT is also necessary to ensure it aligns with your evolving estate planning goals. Changes in tax laws or personal circumstances may dictate revisions and adjustments to the trust structure.

Why Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC is Your Best Choice for IDGTs

Although intentionally defective trusts offer a powerful strategy for minimizing estate taxes and avoiding probate, they are not without risks. If the trust is not properly drafted or managed, it may become a taxable asset, resulting in a large tax bill. Additionally, a defective trust may be subject to court challenge, resulting in costly legal fees.

Having skilled international estate planning – by your side is essential when creating your trust. At Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, our estate planning attorneys can guide you through the process carefully and diligently. Our team has extensive experience ensuring smooth transfers of wealth and protecting your global assets. Start your journey toward effective estate tax planning and wealth preservation today by contacting us.