A trust is a legal document that can be created during a person’s lifetime and survive the person’s death. A trust can also be created by a will and formed after death. Once assets are put into the trust they belong to the trust itself (such as a bank account), not the trustee (person). They remain subject to the rules and instructions of the trust contract. In essence, a trust is a right to money or property, which is held in a fiduciary relationship by one person or bank for the benefit of another. The trustee is the one who holds title to the trust property, and the beneficiary is the person who receives the benefits of the trust.
Revocable trusts are created during the lifetime of the trust maker and can be altered, changed, modified or revoked entirely. Often called a living trust, these are trusts in which the trust maker:
• Transfers the title of a property to a trust
• Serves as the initial trustee
• Has the ability to remove the property from the trust during his or her lifetime
Revocable trusts are extremely helpful in avoiding probate. If ownership of assets is transferred to a revocable trust during the lifetime of the trustmaker so that it is owned by the trust at the time of the trustmaker’s death, the assets will not be subject to probate. Although useful to avoid probate, a revocable trust is not an asset protection technique as assets transferred to the trust during the trustmaker’s lifetime will remain available to the trustmaker’s creditors. It does make it more somewhat more difficult for creditors to access these assets since the creditor must petition a court for an order to enable the creditor to get to the assets held in the trust. Typically, a revocable trust evolves into an irrevocable trust upon the death of the trustmaker.
An irrevocable trust is one that cannot be altered, changed, modified or revoked after its creation. Once a property is transferred to an irrevocable trust, no one, including the trust maker, can take the property out of the trust. It is possible to purchase survivorship life insurance, the benefits of which can be held by an irrevocable trust. This type of survivorship life insurance can be used for estate tax planning purposes in large estates; however, survivorship life insurance held in an irrevocable trust can have serious negative consequences.
Asset Protection Trust
An asset protection trust is a type of trust that is designed to protect a person’s assets from claims of future creditors. These types of trusts are often set up in countries outside of the United States, although the assets do not always need to be transferred to the foreign jurisdiction. The purpose of an asset protection trust is to insulate assets from creditor attack. These trusts are normally structured so that they are irrevocable for a term of years and so that the trustmaker is not a current beneficiary. An asset protection trust is normally structured so that the undistributed assets of the trust are returned to the trustmaker upon the termination of the trust provided there is no current risk of creditor attack, thus permitting the trustmaker to regain complete control over the formerly protected assets.
Charitable trusts are trusts which benefit a particular charity or the public in general. Typically charitable trusts are established as part of an estate plan to lower or avoid the imposition of estate and gift tax. A charitable remainder trust (CRT) funded during the grantor’s lifetime can be a financial planning tool, providing the trustmaker with valuable lifetime benefits. In addition to the financial benefits, there is the intangible benefit of rewarding the trustmaker’s altruism as charities usually immediately honor the donors who have named the charity as the beneficiary of a CRT.
A constructive trust is an implied trust. An implied trust is established by a court and is determined by certain facts and circumstances. The court may decide that, even though there was never a formal declaration of a trust, there was an intention on the part of the property owner that the property is used for a particular purpose or go to a particular person. While a person may take legal title to a property, equitable considerations sometimes require that the equitable title of such property really belongs to someone else.
Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust is one that is set up for a person who receives government benefits so as not to disqualify the beneficiary from such government benefits. This is completely legal and permitted under the Social Security rules provided that the disabled beneficiary cannot control the amount or the frequency of trust distributions and cannot revoke the trust. Ordinarily, when a person is receiving government benefits, an inheritance or receipt of a gift could reduce or eliminate the person’s eligibility for such benefits. By establishing a trust, which provides for luxuries or other benefits which otherwise could not be obtained by the beneficiary, the beneficiary can obtain the benefits from the trust without defeating his or her eligibility for government benefits. Usually, a special needs trust has a provision that terminates the trust in the event that it could be used to make the beneficiary ineligible for government benefits. Special needs have a specific legal definition and are defined as the requisites for maintaining the comfort and happiness of a disabled person when such requisites are not being provided by any public or private agency. Special needs can include medical and dental expenses, equipment, education, treatment, rehabilitation, eyeglasses, transportation (including vehicle purchase), maintenance, insurance (including payment of premiums of insurance on the life of the beneficiary), essential dietary needs, spending money, electronic and computer equipment, vacations, athletic contests, movies, trips, money with which to purchase gifts, payments for a companion, and other items to enhance self-esteem. The list is quite extensive. Parents of a disabled child can establish a special needs trust as part of their general estate plan and not worry that their child will be prevented from receiving benefits when they are not there to care for the child. Disabled persons who expect an inheritance or other large sum of money may establish a special needs trust themselves, provided that another person or entity is named as trustee.
A trust that is established for a beneficiary that does not allow the beneficiary to sell or pledge away interests in the trust is known as a spendthrift trust. It is protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, until such time as the trust property is distributed out of the trust and given to the beneficiaries.
Tax By-Pass Trust
A tax by-pass trust is a type of trust that is created to allow one spouse to leave money to the other while limiting the amount of federal estate tax that would be payable on the death of the second spouse. While assets can pass to a spouse tax-free, when the surviving spouse dies, the remaining assets over and above the exempt limit would be taxable to the children of the couple, potentially at a rate of 55 percent. A tax by-pass trust avoids this situation and saves the children perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal taxes, depending upon the value of the estate.
A Totten trust is one that is created during the lifetime of the grantor by depositing money into an account at a financial institution in his or her name as the trustee for another. This is a type of revocable trust in which the gift is not completed until the grantor’s death or an unequivocal act reflecting the gift during the grantor’s lifetime. An individual or an entity can be named as the beneficiary. Upon death, Totten trust assets avoid probate. A Totten trust is used primarily with accounts and securities in financial institutions such as savings accounts, bank accounts, and certificates of deposit. A Totten trust cannot be used with real property. It provides a safer method to pass assets on to family than using joint ownership. To create a Totten trust, the title on the account should include identifying language, such as “In Trust For,” “Payable on Death To,” “As Trustee For,” or the identifying initials for each, “IFF,” “POD,” “ATF.” If this language is not included, the beneficiary may not be identifiable. A Totten trust has been called a “poor man’s” trust because a written trust document is typically not involved and it often costs the trust maker nothing to establish.
A living trust, sometimes known as an inter-vivos trust, is one made by a trustor (grantor) during his or her lifetime, with assets or property intended for the individual’s use during their lifetime. This type of trust allows the trustor to benefit from the trust while alive, but passes the assets and property on to a beneficiary (using a trustee) upon their death. With a living trust, you are generally able to avoid probate court, provided the trust is funded.
A testamentary trust, often called a will trust, is an agreement made for the benefit of a beneficiary once the trustor has died, and details how the assets must be endowed after their death. This type of trust is often instituted by an executor, who will manage the trust for the trustor’s decedents after their will and testament has been created. And, a testamentary trust is irrevocable (cannot be changed or altered).
Parties in a Trust
• Trustor: The trustor is the person who grants the trustee control over their assets, estate, or property, and who creates the agreement.
• Trustee: The trustee is responsible for managing the trust that the grantor (trustor) has appointed them over. They are the person who is in charge of managing the property or assets the trustor gives them to keep, and are titled in the agreement.
• Beneficiary: The beneficiary or beneficiaries are the people who received the benefits of the trust agreement. They are given the property or assets by the trustee from the trustor according to the terms of the agreement.
Advantages of A Trust
• Avoid Probate Court: Generally, the disadvantages of a Trust are outweighed significantly by the many advantages created by having a Living Trust in place. The biggest advantage of a Living Trust is that, unlike a Last Will and Testament, a Trust allows you to avoid Probate Court. There are three main reasons why this is important.
First, Probate can be very expensive. Probate is the legal process through which the court ensures that, when you die, your debts are paid and your assets are distributed. Legal fees, personal representative or executor fees, inventory fees (county taxes), and other costs have to be paid before your assets can be fully distributed to your heirs or beneficiaries. If you own property in other states, your family could face multiple Probates, each one according to the laws in that state. These costs can vary widely, but we’ve had clients who had to pay tens of thousands of dollars throughout the Probate process. In general, Probate is often much more expensive than doing some simple Estate Planning in advance.
Second, Probate can take a long time.
Third, Probate is public. Your family has no privacy. Probate is a public process, so anyone can see the size of your estate (sometimes what you actually owned), who you owed debts to, who will receive your assets, and when they will receive them. The process invites upset heirs to contest your Will and can expose your family to greedy creditors and potential fraudsters.
• Your Personal And Financial Matters Remain Private: Since there is generally no Probate Court process when you have a Living Trust, there is no need to make your assets or your personal wishes public. On the other hand, a Last Will and Testament and its contents are made public when they enter Probate Court. Since the Trust forgoes the need for Probate, the contents of the transfer stay private. Additionally, most transfers take place in our office within weeks.
• You Maintain Control of Your Finances After You Pass Away: With a Living Trust, you can continue to protect your family, even after you’re gone: delay distributions until children reach a certain age or graduate; make sure money doesn’t fall into the hands of creditors and ex-spouses; & make sure that special needs children still qualify for benefits. Many people are unaware that you do not have to distribute your entire estate immediately after death. Using a Living Trust, you can hold off on distributions until your children reach a certain age, or achieve a milestone (i.e. graduation from college, marriage etc.). A Trust can also be used to ensure that your children don’t lose their inheritance due to substance abuse, creditor problems, or divorce.
• Reduce the Possibility of a Court Challenge: When analyzing a Will or a Trust, it’s important to understand that a Living Trust is often more difficult to challenge in court than a Will because it is harder to prove incompetence. In order to successfully undermine a Trust, the individual challenging has to prove that the documentation is invalid in some way, or that you were improperly influenced by a third party. A Trust is actively managed by you during your life, not a single event situation like that of a Last Will and Testament. If you were able to facilitate the transfer and management of assets during your life, then it is tough to substantiate claims of incompetence. Additionally, only beneficiaries named in the Trust are entitled to notice and the right to see its contents. A Will on the other hand must be provided both to all of your named beneficiaries and your heirs at law. Thus, if you disinherit an heir in a Trust, it’s less likely that they will know to contest the document.
• Prevent a Conservatorship: If you become incapacitated, then a Living Trust can protect your family from undergoing a conservatorship. A conservatorship is when a court-appointed representative is given the authority to manage an incapacitated person’s financial matters for them. This feature of a Trust is especially comforting to families in times of difficulty since they do not have to worry about going to court and requesting access to the incapacitated person’s finances. A Trust gives the family one less problem to face when someone becomes sick. If the Trust is set up as an individual Trust, then the Successor Trustee can take over and manage the assets. If the Trust is owned by a married couple, then the second spouse will step in as the acting Trustee. It is also prudent to have a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances in addition to a Living Trust to grant the new acting Trustee the power to manage any property and finances outside of the Trust.
Disadvantages of a Trust
• Additional Paperwork: One of the disadvantages of a Trust is the additional paperwork. In order to make a Living Trust effective, you need to make sure that the ownership of all the property in the Trust is legally transferred to you as the Trustee. If an asset has a title (real estate, stocks, mutual funds), you need to change the title to show that the property is now owned by the Trust. Let’s say you want to put your house into the Trust. To do this you need to prepare and sign a new deed to transfer ownership to you as trustee of the Trust. In the end, a little bit of additional paperwork and record keeping is worth much more than the time and money that will be lost in Probate, not to mention the stress that your family will have to go through to access your assets after you pass.
• Maintain Accurate Records: Once you create a Living Trust you generally don’t need separate income tax records if you are both the Grantor and the Trustee. Any income you receive from property that you are holding in the Trust will simply be reported on your personal tax returns. However, if you transfer property in or out of the Trust, you need to keep accurate written records. This isn’t difficult, but it’s easy to forget if it has been a few years since you created your Trust.
Individuals who are considering drafting a trust or a will may wish to consult with an estate planning lawyer. He or she can explain the advantages of using a trust as well as a will. He or she can make recommendations based on the specific considerations of the client. He or she may even recommend using both documents, such as by using a pour-over will that places any property owned at the time of the testator’s death into the trust.