Oftentimes, families that are beginning their estate planning have heard about the living trust. Most everyone is aware that they need a will, but do you also need a living trust?
A trust is defined as a legal contract that lets an individual or entity (the trustee) hold assets on behalf of another person (the beneficiary). The assets in the trust can be cash, investments, physical assets like real estate, business interests and digital assets. There is no minimum amount of money needed to establish a trust.
US News’ recent article entitled “Trusts Explained” explains that trusts can be structured in a number of ways to instruct the way in which the assets are handled both during and after your lifetime. Trusts can reduce estate taxes and provide many other benefits.
Placing assets in a trust lets you know that they will be managed through your instructions, even if you’re unable to manage them yourself. Trusts also avoid the court process known as probate. This lets your heirs get the trust assets faster than if they were transferred through a will.
The two main types of trusts are revocable (known as “living trusts”) and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust allows the grantor to change the terms of the trust or dissolve the trust at any time. Hence, the term "revocable" or "living"; it means it can be changed at any time while you are alive. Revocable trusts avoid probate, but the assets in them are generally still considered part of your estate. That is because you retain control over them during your lifetime.
To totally remove the assets from your estate, you need an irrevocable trust. An irrevocable trust cannot be altered by the grantor after it's been created. Therefore, if you’re the grantor, you can’t change the terms of the trust, such as the beneficiaries, or dissolve the trust after it has been established.
You also lose control over the assets you put into an irrevocable trust.
Trusts give you more control over what happens with your assets than a will does. With a trust, you can set more particular terms as to when your beneficiaries receive those assets. You may even put certain types of conditions or restrictions on whether or not a beneficiary receives income from the trust. This is particularly helpful if you have minor children or beneficiaries with particular needs, such as substance abuse.
Another type of trust is created under a last will and testament and is known as a testamentary trust. Although the last will must be probated to create the testamentary trust, this trust can protect an inheritance from and for your heirs as you design.
Trusts are not a do-it-yourself proposition: ask for the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Reference: US News (Feb. 7, 2022) “Trusts Explained”