Living Trust vs Will- The Best Way to Avoid Probate
What is a Living Trust?
A living trust is an effective estate planning tool for many individuals. Do you want to make sure your heirs don't mishandle or waste what you leave behind? Do you have pets that will need to be cared for if something were to happen to you? Do you or a parent anticipate entering a nursing home in the future and want to protect your eligibility for Medicaid? These are only a few reasons you may want to investigate whether a living trust is right for you.
A trust document is a method of holding property in a fiduciary relationship for the benefit of the named beneficiaries. The same individual may be the grantor, trustee and beneficiary. The grantor may also name successor trustee if the original trustee dies or is unable to serve, as well as successor beneficiaries.
To create a living trust, the owners of the trust (also called the grantors or settlors) make a living trust document and transfer real property or other assets to the trust. Assets are transferred into the trust belong to the trust and are managed by the trustee. The trustee manages the trust property for the benefit of the beneficiaries, according to the terms of the trust document.
There are two basic categories of living trusts:
- A revocable trust may be changed or terminated by the grantor of the trust. The settlor may reserve the right to take back any trust property and remaining revenues. Revocable trusts are also referred to as grantor trusts, and therefore the income is taxable to the grantor and any assets in the trust when the grantor dies become part of the grantors' taxable estate.
- An irrevocable trust can't be changed or terminated without the consent of the beneficiaries. By transferring assets into the trust, the creator of the trust gives up control and ownership. Therefore, the assets and income are no longer taxable to the grantor, nor do they become part of the settlor's taxable estate when he or she dies. Some types of irrevocable trusts include an irrevocable life insurance trust, irrevocable family trust, Medicaid income trust, special needs trust, and charitable trust.
Living trusts may provide many benefits, such as avoiding probate, protecting assets from creditors, keeping your financial affairs confidential, minimizing taxes, delay, and legal expenses, and more, when used properly. When your estate is distributed under a will, you lose control over what happens to it once received by the heirs. Living trusts provide a way to protect and manage your estate even after your death or incapacity. Even if you don't have a large estate, they can serve many purposes, such as ensuring that your pets are cared for according to your instructions to the trustees, protecting governments benefits or eligibility for Medicaid, or allowing you to preserve confidentiality in your financial affairs and choice of beneficiaries.
Advantages of a Living Trust
A living trust is a very effective estate planning tool for many individuals. Some of the advantages when you make a living trust include:
- Privacy- The trust document is a private document which is not required to be filed as a public record. Because assets are owned in the named of the trust, trusts provide a level of privacy for ownership. When a will is probated, an inventory of your assets and debts becomes a matter of public record once filed. Unlike a will, the terms of the trust do not become a public document in the probate process.
- Asset protection- Property placed in an irrevocable trust may be placed beyond the reach of creditors. Because a trust document isn't a matter of public record, it may also be more difficult for creditors to discover who inherits the property and make a claim on it.
- Spendthrift protection- If you die leaving minor children or other financially irresponsible beneficiaries, the trust may continue and have the assets managed by the trustee until the beneficiaries are sufficiently capable of managing the assets themselves.
- Incapacity- If you have an accident or become incapacitated, the trustee can mange your financial affairs without the need for creating a guardianship or conservatorship.
- Tax Liability- A properly structured credit shelter trust may minimize the estate taxes that might otherwise be due on large estates.
- Probate proceedings- The expense, burden and delay of probate proceedings may be avoided since property owned by the trust passes outside of probate. If you own real estate in more than one state, placing the property in trust can avoid the cost and hassle of multiple probate proceedings.
- Separation of assets- When a couple has significant assets before getting married, placing assets in trust can help avoid the assets from becoming community property.
- Benefits eligibility- A Medicaid income trust can be used to ensure eligibility for Medicaid if a parent enters a nursing home. A special needs trust can allow a person with special needs to receive gifts, lawsuit settlements, or inheritances and not lose disability benefits.
- Pet care- Many states now recognize trusts that provide for the care of your loved animals and ensure they are provided for when you are no longer able.
Living Trusts and Wills
People often wonder whether it is necessary to have a living trust if they already have a last will and testament. A will is an essential document for everyone to have, regardless of whether you also have a trust. By having a will, you can also be ensured that any property which hasn't been transferred into your trust will be distributed according to your wishes. For example, you may acquire property shortly before you die and never had the opportunity to transfer the property into the trust. A will typically contains a residuary clause which specifies how to distribute any property which hasn't already been designated to go to a named beneficiary.
Unlike a will, a trust continues after the incapacity or death of the grantor. Therefore, the successor trustee can manage your assets according to your instructions until a point in time specified in the trust instrument. This is in contrast to a will, since you will have no say in how the property is used once you die and the beneficiaries inherit their share.
A testamentary trust may also be created in a will. These types of wills are sometimes referred to as pourover wills. By creating a testamentary trust and naming a trustee in the will, any property not specifically identified in the will, such as later-acquired property, can be distributed according to the terms of the testamentary trust. Such a trust may also allow the trustee to manage the inherited property for minor or disabled beneficiaries until the trust expires or a certain condition is met, such as marriage or graduation of a beneficiary.
Is a Living Trust Right for Me?
A living trust can serve many purposes, so whether you need a living trust will depend on your reasons for creating a trust. Typically, a living trust is most popular among those with significant assets and over the age of 50. However, because of the advantages described above, it may also make sense for anyone who wishes to leave property to beneficiaries who are minors or who are disabled, seeks to avoid probate procedures, keep their financial affairs and chosen beneficiaries private, or protect assets from the reach of creditors. A living trust avoids the oversight of the court involved with a testamentary trust. When making an estate plan, a trust is an important legal tool to be considered.
How Can a Home Be Transferred into the Trust?
Q: We just created a living trust. How do we put our house into the trust?
A: You may put the property in trust by creating a quitclaim or warranty deed transferring the property from the current owners to the trust. To add real estate to a living trust, the grantor(s) of the trust create a real property deed with the living trust named as grantee. The deed should be signed and recorded in the local recorder office where the real property is located.
Will Putting Real Property in a Trust Prevent Foreclosure?
Q: Is there a type of living trust form that will stop a home foreclosure or bank auction?
A: If the foreclosure process has already been started, putting the property into a trust will not be helpful in stalling or stopping the foreclosure process. If a person knows that there is a pending claim by a creditor, and then makes a transfer of property to a trust, it may give rise to claims that is a fraudulent conveyance intended only to prevent creditors from collecting money owed out of the asset. If a claim of fraudulent conveyance is proven, the court can void the transfer to the trust and determine that the property is still actually in your ownership.
How Can a Trustee Be Forced to Carry Out Duties?
Q: My uncle is the trustee of our family trust, but he's going through personal problems and due to the conflict going on, has ignored u sand hasn't given the beneficiaries the trust income for a while now. What can be done?
A: Trustees are considered fiduciaries, which means they have a duty to follow the instructions detailed in the trust instrument and act with the utmost care and loyalty toward the trust property. A trustee must act in the best interests of the trust and not for personal benefit. For example, a trustee should not profit from or borrow against the trust.
When a trustee doesn't follow instructions or acts for personal gain, it's called a breach of fiduciary duty. If a trustee breaches a fiduciary duty, an action may be filed in court to have a trustee ordered to do or not do something, show the court an accounting of all transactions, be removed and replaced with a successor trustee, or other relief as may be needed.
Is the Privacy of My Financial Affairs Ensured by a Trust?
Q: I'm wondering if my wife and I create a living trust, will we need to file it at court so that the contents of the trust can be seen by anyone?
A: No, a trust agreement is a private document, allowing you to avoid probate filings like a last will. While you may wish to voluntarily have it on file in some instances, but you do not have to file it, and therefore can keep your assets, debts, and choice of beneficiaries from being disclosed.
What is the Difference Between a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust?
Q: How do I choose between a revocable living trust and an irrevocable living trust?
A: The answer will depend on your circumstances and your reason for wanting to make a trust agreement. To put it simply, when you create a revocable living trust, you still have a form of control in being able to change or terminate the trust, therefore, it is possible that creditors could attach the assets in the trust. In contrast, with an irrevocable trust you give up all rights to control or change it, so creditors are less likely to be able to claim you have ownership of the trust assets.
The grantor owes taxes on the income of revocable trusts and any trust property remaining when the grantor dies becomes part of the grantor's taxable estate, unlike irrevocable trusts. Some examples of an irrevocable living trust include:
- A Medicaid Income Trust (also called a Miller Trusts or Qualifying Income Trust) allows a person entering a nursing home to "spend down assets" to qualify for Medicaid. The terms of the trust document restrict how much income may be used for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the trust may
- A Special Needs Trust (also called a Supplemental Needs Trust) protects minor children and adults with disabilities who rely on government benefits and need to maintain income eligibility levels while receiving other income, such as gifts and inheritances. Such trusts are often used to pay for things like education, recreation, counseling, and medical attention that exceed usual living expenses. In some cases the trustee can use trust property for basic necessities if the trust allows that discretion.
These examples of irrevocable living trust agreements restrict the use of and how much income a beneficiary of the trust may receive.
What are the Benefits of a Living Trust?
Q: How do I know if I need a living trust?
A: It is an important tool to consider as parts of one's estate planning. The answer will depend on your personal circumstances and needs. A living trust, also called an inter vivos trust, may be used for various purposes, such as asset protection, reducing federal estate taxes and other taxes, avoiding probate of certain assets, protecting eligibility for government benefits, ensuring irresponsible heir s don't waste inheritances, helping a charitable cause, and more.