It may seem surprising to use a wine analogy to explain a legal concept, but when discussing trust decanting, pouring wine is often a part of the conversation. When you take a bottle of wine and slowly pour the wine from the bottle into a different container, you are separating the wine from any sediments that may have formed in the bottle. This process is called wine decanting. Decanting ultimately makes the wine taste better as it removes the harsh taste of built-up sediment. Similarly, trust decanting allows a trustee to modify an irrevocable trust by “pouring” the trust assets into a new trust that has different, often more favorable terms. If a trustee has the discretionary power to distribute trust assets to and for the benefit of a beneficiary, decanting enables a trustee to use this power to dictate the terms of a new trust.
Proposition 19, a California ballot measure, modifies Proposition 13 (which limits increases of real property tax to two percent per year unless reassessed due to sale or transfer) and Proposition 58 (which allows property owners to transfer their primary residence to their children at the preferential property tax assessment and up to $1 million of assessed value of other real property, with a later proposition extending the benefit to qualifying grandchildren).
What is Trust Decanting?
For many years, practitioners have struggled to find ways to change the terms of an irrevocable trust. However, through common law and through the decanting statutes that have been enacted in many jurisdictions, it is now possible to modify an irrevocable trust. The rationale for allowing such a modification is that a trustee who has the power to distribute the trust property to or for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries should be able to make the distribution to them in trust and dictate the terms of that trust. Decanting is essentially a “do-over”.