What Is a Trust?


Trust is at the heart of all human relationships, from romantic partnerships and family life to business operations and political decisions. It’s also at the core of many mental health practices, such as psychotherapy and medical treatment. And trust is even a key factor in the success of a startup, as well as the failure of a company, because when people lose faith in a brand or company, they will stop spending money with that entity.

A trust is a legal instrument used to manage property for a beneficiary or beneficiaries, often named by the grantor (or person creating the trust). The trustee oversees distribution of the trust’s assets and ensures that all stipulations of the trust are met. The trustee can be a person, a financial institution, or any other entity that the grantor chooses. Typically, there are multiple trustees who are responsible for specific areas of the trust or for overall administration. The trustee(s) should have the time, expertise, and objectivity to manage the assets of the trust and be familiar with applicable laws.

Often, Trusts are used to avoid the lengthy and costly probate process, which can consume up to 5% of an estate’s value in attorney and court fees. There are many other reasons to use a Trust, including privacy, providing for a disabled individual, or reducing estate taxes.

You can include in a Trust any asset that you want to pass on, such as cash, investments, real estate, artwork, or other personal belongings. You will need to transfer ownership of these assets to the Trust, a process called “funding.” This usually just involves changing the name on an existing asset so that it is now Trust-owned. Some types of assets, such as real estate, may require a new deed or other legal documents.

It’s possible to restrict the way that trust assets can be distributed, such as withholding funds from a spendthrift beneficiary or blocking access to a debtor. This can be especially useful if you know that your loved one has a habit of making poor financial choices. It’s also common to stipulate that a beneficiary must donate a certain percentage of his or her inheritance to charity, or to other philanthropic causes.

Trusts can be drafted to address your specific legacy planning goals and needs, including avoiding probate, providing for a disabled individual, promoting family values, protecting against remarriage and divorce, and reducing or eliminating estate taxes. If you’re interested in incorporating a trust into your plan, consult with an experienced estate planning and/or tax attorney to discuss your options.