In my ongoing efforts to break down the legalese barriers that tend to separate lawyers from the real world, and have increased quality communication, here’s another Fun with Legal Words post. Today’s word is “trust.”

In this context, and in the simplest terms, a trust is a legal agreement between three parties: settlor, trustee, and beneficiary. Let’s look at each of these three parties, and then delve more into how a trust works. 

Settlor

All trusts have a settlor, sometimes called the “donor” or “trustor.” The settlor creates the trust, and also has legal authority to transfer property to the trust. 

Man reading business section of paper

Trustee

The trustee can be any person or entity that can take title to property on behalf of a beneficiary. The trustee is responsible for managing the property according to the rules outlined in the trust document, and must do so in the best interests of the beneficiary.

Beneficiary

The beneficiary is the person or entity benefiting from the trust. The beneficiary can be one person/entity or multiple parties (true also of settlor and trustee). Multiple trust beneficiaries do not have to have the same interests in the trust property. Also, trust beneficiaries do not have to even exist at the time the trust is created (such as a future grandchild, or charitable foundation that hasn’t been set up yet).

Trust Property

A trust can be either funded or unfunded. By funded, we mean that trust property has been placed “inside” the trust. This property is sometimes called the “principal” or the “corpus.” A trust is unfunded until property are transferred into your name as trustee of the trust.

Any Asset

House

Any asset can be held by a trust. Trust property can be real estate, intangible property, business interests, and personal property. Some common examples of trust property include farms, buildings, vacation homes, money, stocks, bonds, collections, personal possessions, and vehicles.

“Imaginary Container”

We speak of putting assets “in” a trust, but assets don’t actually change location. Think of a trust as an “imaginary container.” It’s not a geographical place that protects something (such as a garage protects your car), but a form of ownership that holds it for your benefit. For instance, on your car title the owner blank would read “The John Smith Trust.” It’s common to put real estate (farms, homes, vacation condos) and entire accounts (savings, checking, credit union, and brokerage accounts) into a trust.

Baskets

After the trust is funded, the trust property will still be in the same place before the trust was created—your land where it always was, your car in the garage, your money in the bank, your stamp collection in the study… The only difference is the property will have a different owner: “The Jane Jones Trust,” not Jane Jones.

Transfer of Ownership

Putting property in a trust transfers it from personal ownership to the trustee, who holds the property for the beneficiary. The trustee has legal title to the trust property. For most purposes, the law treats trust property as if it were now owned by the trustee and trusts have separate taxpayer identification numbers.

But, trustees are not the full owners of trust property. Trustees have a legal duty to use trust property as provided in the trust agreement and permitted by law. The beneficiaries retain what is known as equitable title: the right to benefit from trust property as specified in the trust.

Assets to Beneficiary

The settlor provides terms in a trust agreement as to how the fund’s assets are to be distributed to a beneficiary. The settlor can provide for the distribution of funds in any way that is not against the law or against public policy.

Types of Trusts Almost Limitless

The types of trusts are almost limitless. Trusts may be classified by their purpose, duration, creation method, or by the nature of the trust property.

Benefits of Trusts

The potential benefits of trusts are immense. The benefits include avoiding probate (and other costs savings), privacy, and helping with every family’s unique needs. 

Avoid Probate

A major benefit of trusts is avoiding probate. This is because, upon death, the trust dictates how trust property will pass. Avoiding probate saves your loved ones both time and money as the probate process is time-consuming, taking anywhere from several months to a year to complete. Sometimes, depending on the size of the estate, it can take even longer. Probate can also be expensive. Attorney’s fees alone can amount to two percent of the total estate, or even more in extraordinary cases. For some, two percent of their assets can be a very high number. Often, the cost of creating a trust is considerably less expensive than the cost of probate would have been.

Privacy

When a will is filed with an Iowa court upon death, the will becomes a public record. Trusts, on the other hand, remain private documents. Many folks, especially in small towns, have a strong desire to keep business affairs private.

Second Marriages and Blended Families

Dad with kid on beach

Trusts are also helpful in situations involving second marriages or blended families. When married couples have children from previous relationships, the surviving spouse has the ability to disinherit stepchildren. A trust can remedy this situation by providing lifetime benefits to the surviving spouse but, after his or her death, leaving assets to children and stepchildren.

Special Needs Trusts

Families with members who have special care needs must take a careful estate planning approach. For example, when a person receives government assistance due to a disability, a gift or inheritance might result in denial of benefits. However, assets can be left in certain types of trusts (for example, a special needs trust), to provide for supplemental needs while still allowing persons with disabilities to continue to receive benefits.

Let’s Get Started

You probably still have some questions on trusts…which is why I’m here! Don’t hesitate to contact me. I offer a free one-hour consultation at which point we can discuss your personal situation, see if a trust is right for you, and set up the steps to take for success.

Quid pro quo featured

You’ve probably heard it before on your favorite law show or movie court case, but do you know what “quid pro quo” actually means?

Quid pro quo (“something for something” in Latin) means an exchange of goods or services, where one transfer is contingent upon the other.

Quid pro quo can have different meanings in different areas of the law.

For example, the term has a very particular meaning in employment law where “Quid pro quo” is a type or kind of sexual harassment. “Quid pro quo” harassment occurs in the workplace when a manager or other authority figure offers that he or she will give the employee something (a raise or a promotion) in return for that employee’s satisfaction of a sexual demand. Obviously quid pro quo in this context creates a big illegal.

The singular mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. is to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa. So, in the arena of philanthropy and nonprofits, what does quid pro quo mean?

A charitable donation is deductible—to the extent the donation exceeds the value of any goods or services received in exchange. So what happens when you donate to your favorite charity and receive something tangible in return? This is the issue of “quid pro quo” in charitable gift law.

Quid Pro Quo Example

quid-pro-quo-meme

If a donor gives a charity $100 and receives an opera ticket valued at $40, the donor has made a quid pro quo contribution. In this example, the charitable contribution part of the payment is $60. The donor is entitled to a charitable deduction for $60, but not the entire $100.

Both the donor and donee have a responsibility here. The donor, of course, can only deduct the cost of the donation less the value of the goods/services received. The charity must provide their donors clear, written documentation of the value of donations.

In fact, in these quid pro quo situations, under IRS rules, the nonprofit must provide a written disclosure statement. This required written disclosure statement must both:

• Inform the donor that the amount of the contribution that is deductible for federal income tax purposes is limited to the excess of any money (and the value of any property other than money) contributed by the donor over the value of goods or services provided by the charity.

• Provide the donor with a good faith estimate of the value of the goods or services that the donor received.

Free Consultation

If your favorite charity wants to talk with me, no quid pro quo is required! I offer a free one-hour consultation, with absolutely no obligation. I can always be reached by email at Gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, and by phone at 515-371-6077.