Most people know that a will is an important piece of the estate planning puzzle, but there are many misconceptions about trusts. Most people believe that trusts are reserved for the very wealthy. While it’s true that not everyone needs a trust, it is hardly limited to those with multi-million dollar estates. Depending on your estate planning goals, assets, and wishes, a trust may be a very viable option for you—even if your estate is modest.

But, what is a trust…and how do you know if you need one?

What is a trust?

A trust is a legal contract that ensures the proper distribution of assets to the trustor’s beneficiaries. Assets can be distributed in the exact manner you wish them to be. The individual creating the trust—called a ‘trustor’ or ‘grantor’—places title to his or her assets into the ownership of the trust. The process of transferring assets to the trust is called ‘trust funding,’ and is an essential part of successful trust creation. The trustor will also name a person to manage and administer the assets held in the trust, called a ‘trustee.’ A well-organized and regularly maintained trust has the potential to save your loved ones from certain headaches, like probate court, and can offer tax benefits for inheritances, as well as more privacy and control over your assets.

General Guidelines

Generally speaking, trusts may be a viable option for you if you have a net worth of $100,000 or more, a considerable portfolio of real estate and other tangible assets, or detailed instructions for how you’d like your assets to be distributed to your beneficiaries when you pass away. It’s important to note that these recommendations are not set in stone, as each circumstance is highly unique, and even those who don’t meet these guidelines may still benefit from drafting a trust.

Types of Trusts

To further answer the question “what is a trust,” and determine whether a trust will fit your unique needs, it’s important to understand the different types of trusts that exist, and what makes them different. The most common types of trusts include:

  • Revocable (aka ‘Living’) Trust: This flexible trust allows you to cancel, maintain, and make amendments to the trust while you’re still alive. A revocable trust isn’t subject to probate, but doesn’t always protect assets from creditors, as the trustor still legally owns the assets that have been transferred to the trust.
  • Irrevocable Trust: Contrary to a revocable trust, irrevocable trusts are not able to be revoked or amended without the consent of all beneficiaries named in the trust. While this certainly limits the flexibility of the trust, it better protects the trustor from creditors and lawsuits. Additionally, an irrevocable trust can help minimize estate tax liabilities.
  • Testamentary Trust: Also referred to as a ‘will trust’ this type of trust is generated from a last will and testament, becoming effective (and irrevocable) after the trustor passes away. Testamentary trusts ensure that assets are distributed to beneficiaries at a designated time—known as the ‘trust expiration,’—which is prompted by a triggering event, such as the beneficiary turning a certain age. Because this trust is part of a will, it must go through probate before the trust can be created.
  • Charitable Trust: This type of irrevocable trust allows you to leave behind a legacy of giving. Charitable trusts are often established to reduce estate and gift tax liabilities. A charitable remainder trust (CRT) carries the added benefit of providing a source of income to you or your beneficiaries during the trust term. At the time of your passing, all remaining assets will then be distributed to the designated charity.
  • Special Needs Trust: Parents and guardians of children and adults with a disability can use this type of trust to protect a beneficiary’s eligibility for needs-based government programs, like SSI and Medicaid. This allows trustors the ability to provide financially for these beneficiaries when they are no longer around to physically care for them.

While creating a trust isn’t for everyone, it is a valuable part of an estate plan for many, providing an additional layer of protection for your legacy, and the future security of your loved ones. The flexibility, problem-solving, and variety that a trust provides makes it an attractive option for those seeking a well-rounded estate plan.

Educating yourself on trusts is only the first step. When it is time to create your trust, working with an experienced estate planning attorney will ensure that your trust is established and funded properly. Contact usvia the brief form below to get started today, or learn more about protecting your assets by signing up for Miller Estate and Elder Law’s FREE estate planning workshop.

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