By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

ITF is an abbreviation for "in trust for". It is a simple method of titling (holding or owning) a bank or brokerage account that will transfer automatically on death to the person named. For example, "Jane Doe ITF Little Doe" is an account owned by Jane Doe (and taxed in her estate if her estate is large enough) that on Jane's death will automatically pass to Little Doe without the need to go through probate. While this is often looked at as a positive (i.e., avoiding probate) it can raise a host of issues and problems. If Little Doe is a minor, has litigation risks (e.g., she is a doctor), or is irresponsible, a better approach (if the amount of money warrants) would be to have the assets pass under Jane's will (or revocable trust if you really want to avoid probate) and into a trust for Little Doe to protect against these issues. Also, ITF and other non probate accounts can raise issues as to which assets/beneficiaries bear tax and other costs, how goals of equalizing bequests to various beneficiaries can be achieved, etc. Finally, be careful as the terms and implications of the ITF account can vary. This is really not a decision to be made with a bank teller when you open your accounts, but rather with an estate planning expert.

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