The DST 1031 Exchange: What Smart Real Estate Investors Know

The Delaware Statutory Trust (DST) is a bona fide legal workhorse.  For the right investors and circumstances, it’s often an excellent tool that preserves passive investment income, prevents lawsuits, and has special tax benefits for Californians. It can pull double duty for asset protection and estate planning, but that’s hardly all. 

The DST can bring even greater rewards to DST 1031 exchange real estate investors.

Real estate investors in California use the Delaware Statutory Trust  to dodge franchise taxes, escaping the state’s harsh regulations and Draconian tax enforcement agency.

But all investors (regardless of where they live) can exploit the DST for its 1031 Exchange compatibility, flexible asset protection and estate planning benefits. The DST 1031 Exchange also gives you a high degree of control over the structure’s protected assets and beneficiaries.

Consider this your quick guide to understanding how DSTs work with 1031s and your crash course into the wild, flexible, world of the Delaware Statutory Trust.

2021 UPDATE: The Biden administration has proposed the 1031 Exchange for real estate investors with incomes above $400,000. The policy proposal, entitled “The Biden Plan for Mobilizing American Talent and Heart to Create a 21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce,” states that it will roll back "unproductive and unequal tax breaks for real estate investors with incomes over $400,000.” Experts believe the 1031 exchange program is on the chopping block for high-income earners because Biden campaign officials stated that they will take aim at “so-called like kind exchanges.”

Understanding the Essentials of the DST 1031 Exchange

So, while you can still take advantage, if you want to brush up on the basics of this structure fast, you should check out our Delaware Statutory Trust FAQs to learn about the basics of the structure. It’s the quickest way to get a comprehensive understanding, but we’ll touch on why asset protection attorneys even use these darn things in the first place.

For the moment, we’re confining this conversation to DSTs in the context of 1031 exchanges (but we’ll get to other benefits, we promise!).

All you need to know that these revocable trusts can designate many beneficiaries, a feature we'll illustrate with a whimsical example shortly. Theoretically, since you’re a beneficiary, you can hide among them for extra anonymity around your asset protection measures. But that’s far from the only perk of the DST for 1031 investors.

Delaware Statutory Trusts Go With 1031 Exchange Like Peas and Carrots

Despite their many uses, most online info about the Delaware Statutory Trust relates to estate planning or 1031 features, often vaguely. These are great structures for managing and defending 1031 investments. Why these basic concepts have become intertwined in the real estate world:

  • Capital gains taxes are deferred with the DST performing 1031 deals. As long as your like-kind property stays safely within the structure, you don’t owe a dime.
  • Trustee behaviors are limited. You will usually be the beneficiary, so you can just let your DST keep those taxes at bay. A CPA or attorney is the best advisor on this.

No tool is perfect though. We’ve written about the DST’s drawbacks too. It’s up to you to decide what’s best after gathering the vital information.

Can I Have More Than One Beneficiary for My Delaware Statutory Trust?

The beneficiary is anyone receiving funds from the trust structure. Not only can you have more than one, you can have dozens, even hundreds, if you so desire. So if you’re using your DST to secure the 101 homes you’ve selected for your 101 pet dachshunds, each dachshund could have its own share.

[Note: Your dachshunds would need HUMAN legal reps/guardians to express their interests--sadly they’re property under current law. But if dachshunds gain full legal rights of humans, and they may just be cunning enough to pull such a feat off, each one could own his/her DST shares independently. But you could do this same move with 101 children if you had the time, funds, and inclination to set them all up for life. Parents frequently leverage land trust appreciation to pay for expenses including college tuition for children, and you can too.]

We use this ridiculous example because you can easily imagine pulling in many JV partners, family members, and others who care about your business into your DST network as beneficiaries.

But we’re guessing you aren’t making customized estate plans by the dozen, so yes, you can have up to several hundred human beneficiaries according to the state who designed the trust. You will be one of them. So can any partners, children, or people in life you wish to do business with or support using your DST’s earnings.

Perks of Managing Beneficiaries with a Delaware Statutory Trust

Both you and your beneficiaries can benefit from the DST easily. You stay in control, pick who gets what with precision, and can modify your plans at any time.

#1 Easy to Change Your Beneficiaries

Adding a new beneficiary is easy when you’ve got a DST. Removing one is a separate process, but no harder. Let’s go over some of the best benefits of using a DST to pay out certain people as beneficiaries. 

#2 Divide DST Property Easily with Beneficial Interests

DSTs offer both a high degree of control over and tremendous flexibility for handling beneficiaries., thank the concept of beneficial interest. You can think of it as a way of issuing “shares” from your DST to reflect a person’s interest in a property, or even the whole trust, is.

The concept is known as beneficial interest in the trust. You can even have them issued for minors (though regrettably, not dachshunds as of July 2019). Parents often do to offset college or living expenses of the child beyond age 18, and you can sell/give fractions of a property to others under the same reasoning.

See? Even silly examples are important. The accuracy and control you’ll have over how your beneficial interests are distributed is unique to the DST. It’s a form of co-owing that doesn’t put you at risk and is strictly, clearly defined. Whether Johnny gets 1/16th of a single DST property or the entire trust, you’re the decider.

#3 Asset Protection Benefits of DSTs

The Delaware Statutory Trust’s compartmentalization ability makes it a fantastic choice for investors with many assets, anyone with multiple investments, or those hoping to grow rapidly. This isn’t a beginner’s tool, Californians excluded. This privately filed legally-binding agreement can theoretically protect assets in a way identical to the Delaware Series LLC.  DSTs do this by simply holding title to property for you, getting it out your name.

In fact, many of our Californian clients demand series LLCs until we convince them how much better the DST is. If you’re considering asset protection, this is by far one of the strongest individual structures available. It need not be excessively complicated, but the DST will require effective legal counsel to pull off if you want its protections guaranteed. This is particularly true for REIS or anyone wanting to try out the 1031/DST combo. Not every attorney is equally skilled, but a real estate lawyer with corporate chops or asset protection pro can handle this job easily. Pick yours wisely, because you’ll come to rely on their advice.

Estate Planning with DSTs: Create a Dynasty Trust That is Truly Immortal 

If you love the idea of your business outliving you, you can make it happen with the DST. While other tools and trusts can help estate planning for REIs, the DST comes with everything you need for a business that can outlive you. And not only that, you get to stage-direct exactly how the whole affair goes down.

When you grab that handy attorney, they can explain the full estate planning potentials in your particular situation. But most investors love the DST’s ability to become a legacy business that doesn’t rely on any one person. Your real estate empire could exist in its own right, simply passing through the hands of different “managers” as generations click by. If this idea appeals to you, take a good look at your estate plan, your options, and use our checklist to know if it’s time to update the plan.

If you proceed with buying new entities or assets, these should always be included in your estate plan. Real estate investors can use tools to account for everything, but with good asset protection, you’ll want to plan ahead for business succession or liquidation. You get to call the shots with your DST 1031, no matter how you use it.

Last Updated: 
February 5, 2021

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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