A trust really isn’t as complicated as it first may seem. After all, there are only three parties to a trust.
A Settlor, Trustee, & Beneficiary
A trust is created when a property owner transfers the property to a person with the intent that the recipient holds the property for the benefit of someone else. So, there are three parties to a trust: (1) the owner who transfers the property (the settlor, or sometimes called the donor or grantor); (2) the person receiving the property (the trustee); and (3) the person for whose benefit the property is being held (the beneficiary).
Note that although a trust involves three parties, it does not require three persons. One person can play multiple roles. For example, in a typical revocable inter vivos trust, it is quite common for the person establishing the trust to be the initial trustee and the principal beneficiary. In this situation, one person is all three parties—they are the settlor, the trustee, and the beneficiary.
What a Merger Means
There is one limitation to the rule of one person wearing multiple hats. The same person cannot be the sole trustee and the sole beneficiary of the trust. In such an event, it is said merger occurs, and the trust is terminated. Why so? The essence of a trust is that it divides legal title from beneficial ownership, and merger ends this division.
In practical terms, however, merger is rarely an issue. “Wait!” you shout. You just said that in a typical revocable inter vivos trust, the person establishing the trust can be trustee and beneficiary. Yes, in this situation one person is all three parties—the settlor, the trustee, and the beneficiary. But, in almost all situations, one person isn’t the sole beneficiary. Such a trust will designate other beneficiaries who will benefit from the property after the settlor’s death. So, one person can indeed wear three hats.
Let’s Talk More About Trusts
Trusts aren’t that difficult to understand and also can be an effective estate planning tool to meet your wealth transmission goals. Want to learn more? Email me at email@example.com. I offer a free one-hour consultation to everyone, without any obligation. I’d be happy to talk to you at any time.
To all the moms out there (including my own!), happy Mother’s Day! We all have our own unique relationships and therefore unique lists with an endless number of things we can and should thank our moms for. But the one thing we all have in common is there are not enough words and never the perfect gifts that fully encompass how thankful we are for all they’ve given us. Bath salts, candles, and lotions are nice. A massage or pedicure sounds even better! These gifts are kind, but they pale in comparison to all the tangible and intangible things your mother has given you over the years.
That’s why I propose this year you give your mom a gift that’s unconventional, yet incredibly valuable…an estate plan! Why is this one of the greatest gifts for a loved one?
- An estate plan leads to peace of mind. Your mom can feel good knowing if the unexpected happens, then the legal “stuff” surrounding your life is accounted for.
- Estate planning means that you (the testator) get to make the decisions about who you want to have what stuff and when.
- Estate planning isn’t just about death. Documents like financial and health care powers of attorney play an important role if your mom were to be incapacitated by a debilitating accident or illness. Everyone wants the ability to choose the people they want to make important decisions regarding their money and health instead of a court-appointed guardian or conservator.
- Estate planning means your mom can plan for her estate to benefit the causes and organizations she cares for through charitable bequests.
- Estate planning saves your mother’s family (like you!) time and money in attorney’s fees and court costs in the probate process.
- By encouraging your mom to execute an estate plan, you are recognizing that you want her wishes to be heard on important matters like disposition of final remains and a living will. (It makes up for all the times you didn’t follow her directions as a kid!)
- Estate plans can also be seen as a representation of your everlasting love for your mother, because estate plans never expire! They need to be reviewed regularly and updated when goals or big life-changing events happen, but a valid estate plan will last as long as your mom wants it to. What other Mother’s Day gifts can you say that about?
How do you gift someone an estate plan you ask? Well, you certainly can’t buy one at a store, but this is your chance to get creative.
- Gift the gift of information. Even sharing the benefits and educating her on the main components of an estate plan is an amazing present.
- Connect her with an estate planning attorney. Sometimes the hardest part of estate planning is simply getting started. When you work with an estate planning attorney (in lieu of something with a high potential for negative unintended consequences like a DIY will off the internet), they help guide and consult you through the process on top of writing the actual documents.
- Give a storage container. This is a gift you could actually put a bow on! There are many different ways you can choose to store your estate plan, so take stock of what your mother has in terms of secure storage. Is there a locked file cabinet readily available or does she need a water-proof, fire-proof place to keep her original estate plan? The storage container could be a sort of representative for the estate plan that is to come.
- Help her gather her information to fill out the Estate Plan Questionnaire. An Estate Plan Questionnaire helps you and your attorney collect all the important details related to your estate in one place.
- Gift your assistance. Let your mom know that when she’s ready to discuss her planning decisions that you’ll be there to listen, and if necessary, bring your siblings (if any) and other family members to the table so that everyone is on the same page.
Already got your mom a gift? That’s cool. I’m sure she would love it in addition to the estate plan!
A will is the bedrock of every estate plan. But, even though most people know they should have one, they don’t know what a will is, what goes in it, or how it works. In fact, only one in four adults in America (25%) has a will—that’s roughly the same number who have tattoos (23%). Look at it this way: you can take your tattoo to the grave, but your assets that stay above ground need to be administered properly.
Wills: the bottom line
A will is a legal document that provides for the orderly distribution of your personal property at death according to your wishes. It spells out your directions regarding other important matters such as the care of any minor children, the transition of business assets, and the naming of an executor who will oversee its directives are followed.
What if you DON’T have a will
Not having a will means the judicial system (the “court”) will end up administrating your estate through the lengthy process of probate in accordance with state intestate laws. There is no guarantee this process will result in dispersing your assets in the way you would have wanted. This process can cost your family not only a lot of time and money, but it can also lead to anxiety and heartache.
Will is NOT an estate plan, and vice versa
The will is the bedrock document of every estate plan, and it’s a little more complicated than other documents. With your will, you’ll be answering four basic but very important questions. I’ll list the questions, then discuss each separately.
a. Who do you want to have your stuff?
b. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will?
c. Who do you want to take care of your children? If you have minor children (i.e., children under age 18), you’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your children until they are adults.
d. What charities do you want to benefit when you’re gone. A will is a great way to benefit your favorite nonprofits.
Who do you want to have your stuff?
A will provides orderly distribution of your property at death according to your wishes. Your property includes both tangible and intangible things. (An example of tangible items would be your coin collection. An example of an intangible asset would be stocks.)
A will provides the orderly distribution of your tangible and intangible property at death according to your wishes.
Tangible personal property is usually considered to be everything (other than land) that has physical substance and can be touched, held, and felt. Examples of tangible personal property include furniture, vehicles, baseball cards, jewelry, art, your Great-aunt Millie’s teaspoon collection, and pets. Intangible personal property doesn’t have a physical existence so it can’t be touched, but it nevertheless has value. Your intangible personal property might include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, insurance policies, and retirement benefit accounts.
There are generally considered two basic categories of property: real property and personal property. Real property is land and whatever is built on the land, attached to it, or natural to it such houses, barns, grain silos, tile drainage lines, and mineral rights. Personal property is essentially anything that is not real property. Two qualities of personal property to keep in mind: it is moveable and it can be hidden. Jewelry, cash, a pension, and antiques are kinds of personal property.
Example: The fenced acreage you own is real property because it is land that is immovable. But, the cattle on it are personal property because they can be moved—or hidden.
Who’s in charge?
Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will?
Managing an estate plan is not an awful job, but it is an awful lot of responsibility. If you have never dealt with the execution of a will, you might not know how time-consuming, complicated, and demanding it can be. You may also be grieving at the deceased’s passing while trying to make sure all particulars are handled properly. It can be a stressful role, to say the least.
When picking an executor, you want to make sure it’s someone you trust, but also someone you know can handle the complexities and responsibilities of the job. We all have people in our lives whom we love, but recognize they’re not dependable when it comes to things like finances and managing paperwork. Choose someone in your life who is organized, detail-oriented, and can take on what is essentially the part-time job of administrating your estate.
If there’s no person in your life you believe trustworthy or capable enough to be your executor, or you don’t want to burden with the role, you have another option: appointing a corporate executor or trustee. You can find corporate executors and trustees at banks and private investment firms. They usually charge a fee based on the size of the estate. But corporate executors and trustees have the advantages of experience, a dedicated staff, and impartiality. The latter quality is particularly important if there are complicated family dynamics, such as blended families or bad blood.
Whether you choose someone you know or appoint a corporate executor or trustee, you need to sit down with that person for a formal discussion. For a friend or family member, make clear why you’ve assigned him or her the role. Avoid surprises: don’t keep the name of your executor a secret. If you chose one of your children to be your executor, make sure to tell the other(s) to avoid hurt feelings and strife after you’re gone.
Additionally, if you have a large or complicated estate, you would like to set up long-term trusts, or you worry about taxes, a corporate executor or trustee might be a good solution.
Who gets the kids?
For parents with minor children (those younger than 18 years old), it is critically important that you designate a guardian(s) who will be legally responsible for their education, health, and physical care until they reach adulthood. Like the executor’s, it is job that requires you choose someone you trust, but it encompasses so much more than the able administration of your estate—and it doesn’t end after the estate is closed.
In most cases, the surviving parent assumes guardianship of children without a Court intervening. However, there are still a number of factors to consider when choosing a guardian, including parenting style, financial situation, religious and personal values, age, and location. You need to have an in-depth conversation with any potential guardian or guardians to confirm everyone is comfortable with the arrangement and that he or she is prepared for this responsibility.
In Iowa, dying without establishing guardianship results in the Court choosing a child or children’s caregiver(s). It considers what is in the best interest of the child and makes a guess as to the person or people a parent would have wanted. The choice might be someone the deceased parent would never have selected—all the more reason to name a legal guardian in your will.
Tattoo estate planning on your to-do list
Go ahead get that tattoo and wear it proud all the way to the very end. But while you’re showing your ink off, also think about what you want to do with all of your assets. Talk to a qualified estate planner or get started with estate planning by filling out my free, no-obligation estate plan questionnaire. Any questions? Don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 515-371-6077.