When most people hear the word “trust,” images come to mind of trust fund babies and elderly individuals with high net worths. However, the truth is that trusts are much more common than you might think and can be an excellent choice for anyone seeking to control how their assets are disbursed and minimize taxes.
The basic idea behind a trust is that the grantor (the person who creates and funds the trust) works with an attorney who writes a document to describe his or her wishes for the distribution of specific assets. The grantor then selects a trustee—an individual or corporate trustee—who will manage the distribution of the trust’s assets according to those stated wishes.
A trustee’s duties and responsibilities are very important. A good trustee must be responsible, competent and knowledgeable of trust law. In addition, the trustee should be able to communicate clearly and effectively with beneficiaries. A trustee should also be a person of high character and integrity. For these reasons, many people opt to select an independent trustee who can act as a fiduciary without the emotional attachment often associated with family members.
Another key aspect of a trust is its ability to keep estate planning matters private. A will is public, but a trust can be structured to ensure that only those who have been formally named in the document can access its details. This can be particularly helpful if the estate includes a family business that has sensitive relationships or if the grantor wishes to protect his or her privacy as long as possible after death.
Trusts can also be used to avoid the lengthy probate process. In fact, a trust can be set up so that the entire contents of a deceased’s estate are immediately transferred into it upon his or her death. This can save heirs, especially children, the cost of expensive court proceedings and potential legal conflicts over who is entitled to what.
Creating and maintaining a trust requires the assistance of an experienced attorney. While many attorneys offer a basic trust package for a flat fee, the cost can still add up. It’s important to interview prospective lawyers and determine whether they have the expertise necessary to meet your specific goals.
A trusted advisor can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of a trust, as well as determine the best type of trust to suit your needs. In addition, the advisor can also assist with coordinating your trust with other assets you own, such as life insurance policies and retirement plans at work. It’s also a good idea to periodically review and update beneficiary designations on these types of assets in order to match your current wishes.