By Leah Morrison, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP
When it comes to planning to avoid or minimize Federal Estate tax, there are four (almost) magic words that frequently appear in trust documents: health, education, support and maintenance, known in the trust and estate law industry as HEMS. Outside of the tax advantages of including HEMS in a trust document, these words also impact the administration of the trust. When a trust includes HEMS language, beneficiaries from the trust may receive funds from the trust for those type of expenses, and those only.
A trustee is placed in charge of the trust. That trustee usually has broad latitude in determining how many distributions are made from the trust and in what amounts – but HEMS language is included to limit what those distributions may be used for. Trustees must ensure that the distributions fall under those categories. Trustees are often a lay person, and in many cases, a family member. This can make things particularly sticky and confusing, especially if there are disagreements among family members.