Assets left to a surviving spouse avoid estate tax, no matter how large the bequest. However, some people are reluctant to leave sizable amounts to a surviving spouse. Con artists and greedy relatives may wind up with the inheritance.
Therefore, a common estate planning strategy is to leave assets in trust for a surviving spouse. In that situation, though, the trust must be properly drafted to qualify for the estate tax exclusion.
Generally, the surviving spouse will be given all of the income from the trust. The survivor also will be permitted to tap the trust principal and to name anyone as the eventual beneficiary of the trust property.
In some cases, though, the surviving spouse may be given only the trust income, along with restricted rights to principal. In such cases, the first spouse to die will be the one who names the ultimate trust beneficiary when the surviving spouse dies.