Intra-family loans offer a conservative way of using interest rate arbitrage to achieve guaranteed estate tax benefits. The technique can be a powerful tool in today’s uncertain economic climate.

Intra-family loans take advantage of the spread between IRS prescribed interest rates and the interest rates available in the capital markets. For example, in July 2009, the “applicable federal rate” prescribed by the IRS for a three year note is 0.82% and a jumbo CD can be found with an interest rate of 4%.

Consider this example: Client creates a new irrevocable, generation-skipping tax exempt grantor trust for the benefit of his family. He makes a gift of $1 million and then loans the trust $9 million in exchange for a three year promissory note bearing interest at the applicable federal rate of 0.82%. The trust takes the $10 million and simply invests it in a jumbo CD as described above. The trust will receive interest income of $400,000 per year and have to pay out $82,000 per year in interest on the promissory note, a net gain of $318,000 per year, which accrues to the trust income, gift and estate tax-free. In three years, the trust will have accumulated $954,000 on a tax-free basis. At that time, the trust can repay (or refinance) the note.

The market downturn of 2008-2009 has wreaked havoc with many estate plans as transferred assets have lost value or failed to meet investment expectations. Intra-family loans are a conservative method for achieving estate tax benefits in today’s economy. Readers who are interested in intra-family loans should contact their tax attorney.