Rabbi Trust: Definition, Benefits, Tax Implications, and FAQs


Rabbi trusts serve as indispensable tools that address non-qualified benefit obligations for employees. They are meticulously crafted to secure assets, thereby providing a safety net by removing direct employer control. Although offering significant tax advantages for employees, they do not extend protective measures for assets during times of financial instability or bankruptcy. This means both beneficiaries and creditors retain access to trust assets in these circumstances.

Understanding rabbi trust

Rabbi trusts represent a distinct class of non-qualified employee trusts established to ensure mutual benefits for both employees and employers. These trusts are specifically designed to disentangle employee benefits from direct employer control. Once contributions are made to a rabbi trust, they undergo a transformation into an irrevocable arrangement, thereby ensuring financial security for employees.

Rabbi trust protection

Rabbi trusts act as a shield for employees against potentially unfavorable circumstances wherein a financially distressed company might attempt to access trust assets to meet other obligations. Once a rabbi trust is established, the structure remains inviolable, guarding the beneficiaries against potential alterations made by the employer.

In the event of a company transitioning through a change in ownership, the new entity does not possess the authority to modify the terms of the trust. Only the beneficiaries retain the power to make alterations to a rabbi trust.

Rabbi trust taxation

Rabbi trusts offer significant tax advantages for employees since contributions made to the trust are not considered part of their taxable income. This, in turn, reduces the tax burden on employees. Consequently, employees can witness their assets grow without immediate tax implications until the point of withdrawal. However, companies do not experience the same tax benefits when utilizing rabbi trusts, which limits their appeal compared to other trust types.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.

  • Secure employee benefits from employer interference
  • Provide additional benefits to senior executives
  • Offer tax advantages for employees
  • Do not protect assets from creditors during insolvency or bankruptcy
  • Trust assets can be accessible to both beneficiaries and creditors in financial distress
  • Limited tax benefits for companies utilizing rabbi trusts

Frequently asked questions

Are rabbi trusts a legal tax strategy?

Yes, rabbi trusts are indeed legal and represent tax-efficient mechanisms that are specifically designed to secure non-qualified employee benefits. Nevertheless, they do not extend protection against creditors in cases of bankruptcy or insolvency.

Can rabbi trusts be modified by employers?

No, once established, rabbi trusts are immutable and inaccessible by employers, ensuring comprehensive protection for the beneficiaries.

Do rabbi trusts offer complete protection against financial risks?

While rabbi trusts do provide a high level of security against employer interference, they do not shield assets from creditors during financial distress. This makes trust assets accessible to both beneficiaries and creditors in cases of insolvency or bankruptcy.

Key takeaways

  • Rabbi trusts function as supplemental tools for enhancing senior executives’ compensation packages.
  • They, however, do not serve as protective measures for assets during instances of insolvency or bankruptcy.
  • In the unfortunate event of company insolvency, both beneficiaries and creditors can claim access to trust assets.
  • Rabbi trusts present notable tax advantages for employees but do not extend similar benefits to the companies themselves.
  • They facilitate the growth of employee assets without immediate tax implications until withdrawal.
View article sources
  1. Rabbis and Other Top Hats: The Great Escape – Columbus School of Law (Catholic University of America)
  2. Rabbi Trusts – Internal Revenue Service
  3. Rabbi Directed Trust Agreement – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  4. 1. Nonqualified deferred compensation plans – Govinfo.gov