number four on wood

We dove into the definition of the term “trust,” but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about the important agreement that’s often used for purposes including estate tax liability reduction, estate property protection, and probate avoidance. There are four standard ways of classifying trusts.

Trust Classifications

handshake over table

Trusts may be classified by their purpose, duration, creation method, or by the nature of the trust property. One common way to describe trusts is by their relationship to the life of their creator. Those created while the grantor is alive are referred to as inter vivos trusts or living trusts. Trusts created after the grantor has died are called testamentary trusts. Another helpful classification of trusts is comparing those which are revocable to trusts which are irrevocable.

Inter Vivos Trust

An inter vivos trust, also known as a living trust, may be either revocable or irrevocable. In a revocable trust, the grantor can retain control of the property, if the grantor so wishes, and the terms of the trust may be changed or even canceled. An irrevocable living trust, on the other hand, may not be changed or terminated after it is executed.

Testamentary Trust

A testamentary trust is most often a component of a will. The testamentary trust is created when the trustor passes away. The designated trustee then steps in and distributes or manages the assets of the trust according to the deceased’s wishes.

Revocable Trust

A revocable trust allows assets to pass outside of probate, yet allows you to retain control of the assets during your (the grantor’s) lifetime. It is flexible in that it can be dissolved at any time, should your circumstances or intentions change.

A revocable trust typically becomes irrevocable upon the death of the grantor. You can name yourself trustee, or co-trustee, and retain ownership and control over the trust, its terms, and assets during your lifetime. You may also make provisions for a successor trustee to manage them in the event of your death or incapacity.

Although a revocable trust allows you to avoid probate, it’s subject to estate taxes. It also means that during your lifetime, it is treated like any other asset you own.

Irrevocable Trust

An irrevocable trust typically transfers your assets out of your (the grantor’s) estate and potentially out of the reach of estate taxes and probate, but cannot be altered by the grantor after it has been executed. Therefore, once you establish the trust, you will lose control over the assets and you cannot change any terms or decide to dissolve the trust. An irrevocable trust is preferred over a revocable trust if your primary goal is to reduce the amount subject to estate taxes by effectively removing the trust assets from your estate. Also, since the assets have been transferred to the trust, you are relieved of tax liability on the income generated by the trust assets (although distributions to others may have income tax consequences). Trust assets in an irrevocable trust may also be protected in the event of a legal judgment against you

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.

cute puppy

In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I’m exploring here on the blog how love can translate to estate planning. Thus far we’ve covered the best V-Day gift to give your spouse, advice on where to store your estate plan (and it’s not a chocolate heart box!), and how an affinity for football makes understanding estate planning easy. Romance and gift guides aside, this #PlanningForLove series would be incomplete without featuring the love for your pet.

Let’s be for real for a minute. The relationships we have with our pet(s), be they a dog, cat, amphibian, pocket piglet, parrot, or pony are some of the most comforting and consistent. Who else will lick your face, eat snacks out of your hand, demand belly rubs, or get the most Instagram likes? Our pets are a part of our family and it only makes sense to include them in estate planning documents and decisions concerned with the continued care for our loved ones.

cat with flowers

The best way to include your furry and feathered friends in your estate plan is with an animal care trust (sometimes known as a pet trust). This is a special kind of trust different from a living revocable trust or an inter vivos trust. An animal care trust specifically provides for the care of your pet in the event that something were to happen to you. In the trust you’ll likely want include the following information:

  • Sufficiently identify your pets and include a provision that describes your pets as a class through phrasing such as  “the pet(s) owned by me at the time of my death or disability.”
  • Describe your pet’s standard of living, care, and include any regular and special instructions. You can get as specific or general as you want at this point. For example, if your bird only likes a particular brand/type of food, or your dog thrives when she plays catch once a day, this can be specified in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian for check-ups three times a year, this can also be written in.
  • Determine the amount of funding that’s needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care. Generally, this figure can’t exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living.
  • Designate a trustee, caregiver, and remainder beneficiary. Also, designate successor trustees and caregivers if for some reason either becomes unable or unwilling to fulfill their role. The remainder beneficiary is who receives the trust assets if trust funding outlives the beneficiary (your pet).
  • Specify how the funding should be distributed to the caregiver from the trust.
  • Provide instructions and wishes for the final disposition of your pet (for example, via burial or cremation).

Check out and feel free to share this infographic with your fellow pet parents. (Click here to see the pdf version.)

gordon fischer law firm animal care trust

Valentine’s Day is coming up, so let’s discuss how to show your continued love for your pets, even if something unexpected were to happen to you. Contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077).

love in lights

Valentine’s Day is coming up quick and while I think the commercialized messages of “this is love” can get a little cheesy, I’m a full supporter of a day that celebrates love. Be it love for your spouse, a celebration of the fact that you are awesome, or showing even more adoration for your furry best friend, the world could always use a little more love. In this important addition to the #PlanningForLove series, let’s talk about ways you can show love to your children through your estate plan.

I’ve discussed the importance of guardianship quite a bit on this blog. It’s important that anyone with minor children establish guardianship so that if something were to happen to you as a legal guardian that your minor children (under age 18) would be immediately placed in the care of someone you know, trust, and most importantly, choose. Just as establishing guardianship is a powerful gift that your children will hopefully never have to actually know about or experience, a testamentary trust can also continue to provide and support your children if something were to happen to you.

There is an almost endless number of different kind of trusts and you can put just about any asset in a trust. Testamentary trusts are one of the most common kinds of trusts I establish for my clients. You may recognize the first word of the type of trust from “last will and testament.” Indeed, a testamentary trust is a trust written into your will and provides for the distribution of a portion or all of your estate.

Sounds simple enough, but you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with my kids?”

Different from an inter vivos trust, which is established during the settlor‘s lifetime, the testamentary trust kicks in at the completion of the probate process after the death of the person who has created it for the benefit of their beneficiaries.

Typically testamentary trusts are created for minor children or others (such as a relative with some kinds of disabilities) who may inherit a large amount of money if you (the testator) were to pass away. The general thinking is that you may not want a minor child, or even a young adult, to have uninhibited access to their inheritance until a certain age (and presumed level of maturity) is reached. (I can imagine what I would have done with an inheritance at, say, age 18 and it surely wouldn’t have been the smartest use of money!) The testamentary trust then terminates at whatever age you choose, at which point your beneficiaries receive their inheritances outright and can use the funds in any way they choose.

child with red heart

The testator can choose the distribution to be distributed in percentages such as 25% at age 18, 25% at age 22, and the remaining 50% at age 25. Or, the trust funds may be distributed in full at a single age. (All at age 25 is the default if the testator doesn’t choose otherwise.) Distributions can also be made immediately upon your passing if all beneficiaries are legal adults (age 18 or older). The testamentary trust could also be set-up for disbursements around milestones, such as a percentage or full disbursement when the beneficiary graduates from an accredited two- or four-year college institution.

Testamentary Trustee

With a testamentary trust, you also need to designate a trustee. The trustee is responsible for managing the trust property according to the rules outlined in the trust document and must do so in the best interests of the beneficiary (for example, a minor child). Generally, I advise the appointed guardian also be the trustee of a child’s testamentary trust.

Testamentary Trust Options

In my Estate Plan Questionnaire, I offer clients three main options for testamentary trust organization. (Note that there can be more than one testamentary trust created in one will.)

  • Option 1: Separate trust fund for each beneficiary. Each beneficiary’s inheritance to be held by the trustee in a separate fund. Whatever is left in each beneficiary’s trust fund, if anything, will be distributed to that beneficiary when they attain the age(s) indicated in the following section. This option ensures that all of your beneficiaries are treated equally, regardless of needs.
  • Option 2: Single trust fund for multiple beneficiaries. The entire inheritance will be held by the trustee in a single trust fund for the benefit of multiple beneficiaries (such as multiple children). The trustee may make unequal distributions during the term of the trust if a beneficiary needs additional assistance. Whatever is left in the trust, if anything, will be distributed equally when your youngest beneficiary attains the age(s) indicated in the following section. This option will allow the trustee to accommodate a particular beneficiary’s needs by distributing more of the inheritance to that beneficiary during the term of the trust. (Recommended with younger beneficiaries.)
  • Option 3: No delayed distribution. Beneficiary’s inheritance may be made directly to the beneficiary or a court-appointed conservator if the beneficiary is a minor/incapacitated. Funds will be distributed directly to the beneficiary at the age of 18.

Mom and daughter hugging

The important takeaway from all of this is that a testamentary trust can be entirely personalized to fit your wishes. For example, most folks want the testamentary trust written in such a way that their beneficiaries may have access to funds to pay for higher education costs like tuition, room and board, books, and fees, on top of the necessary funds needed for an adequate standard of care, protection, support, and maintenance of the beneficiary.

Estate Plan Revisions & Updates

If you already have an estate plan review it. Estate plans never expire, but major life events or a change in estate planning goals can necessitate changes. For example, if your family welcomed a new baby or adopted a child then it’s definitely time to update your estate plan to include them! Maybe something changes in the future with one of your beneficiaries and you want to change distribution percentages or ages? Simply contact your estate planning attorney and let them know your wishes.

A Lasting Love

hearts on a string

The love for your children knows no bounds and without a doubt, you want to make certain you can still provide for them if something unexpected were to happen to you. There’s no day like today (or Valentine’s Day!) to get your ducks in a row just in case. The best place to begin is with my Estate Plan Questionnaire or by contacting me.

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. 

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

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.

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.

imaginary container

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 swinging children 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.

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).

Three men walking down the street

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 – she is 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 provide so many helpful benefits. Want to learn more? Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com. I offer a free one-hour consultation to everyone, without any obligation. I’d be happy to talk to you any time.

Three Parties to a Trust

There are three parties to a trust: (1) the settlor (sometimes called the donor or grantor); (2) the trustee; and (3) the beneficiary. Let’s talk about the “middle man” of this arrangement – the trustee.

Definition of Trustee

The trustee is the person who receives the property and accepts the obligation to hold the property for the benefit of the beneficiary. There can be one, two, or many trustees.

two people talking

General Duties of Trustees

A person who accepts the role of trustee has numerous responsibilities. In particular, trustee owes several duties, which may be fairly summarized as follows:

  1. The duty to be prudent, especially with respect to the investment of trust assets.
  2. The duty to carry out the terms of the trust.
  3. The duty to be loyal to the trust and administer the trust solely for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
  4. The duty to give personal attention to the affairs of the trust.
  5. The duty to provide regular accounting to the beneficiaries.

Court Can Choose Trustees

If the trustee chosen by the settlor is unwilling or unable to serve, and if the settlor has not chosen a successor trustee, a court will appoint a trustee to carry out the terms of the trust. ”A trust will not fail for want of a trustee.”

Individual Trustees & Corporate Trustees

discussion over table with laptop

A trustee can be one or more people or can be what is known as a corporate trustee. Many banks, other financial institutions, and even a few law firms have trust departments to manage trusts and carry out the duties of the trustee. These are professional trustees and, of course, charge fees for services rendered. But, there are no formal requirements for being a trustee, and individuals still often serve as trustee for family members and friends.

Questions? Let’s Talk.

This hopefully clarified the important role of the trustee to assist your estate planning decisions, but you may have questions…which is great! Contact me to discuss further the status of your estate plan and your trustee decisions. Reach me by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or phone at 515-371-6077.

old and young hand touching a rose

If you have a living trust (sometimes referred to as an inter vivos trust) in your estate plan, you need to know how to administer it. That sounds like common sense, but there are some unique elements to consider that otherwise you probably wouldn’t think about. The following definitions and directions should help you with that process.

In the following descriptions I also include details of what role I play as a lawyer in assisting the process of funding and administering my clients’ living trusts.

(If you’re considering whether or not you need a living trust, this blog post helps break down the basics. Of course, don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your individual situation.)

Tax Identification Number

As long as you are the trustee of the trust, the trust’s tax identification number is your social security number. No separate tax return will need to be filed for the trust for as long as you are the trustee.

Initial Funding of Trust

One of the primary reasons to use a trust is to give your trustees and beneficiaries the ability to avoid probate proceedings at your death. This only works if all your assets are owned by the trust. Accordingly, I suggest you transfer your assets to the trust as soon as you have signed your estate planning documents. The transfer can be easy or difficult, depending on the nature and extent of your assets. The following is a brief description of the process you should complete. I am available to assist you in the process if you wish. Your assets and accounts should be held as follows: (Your name), Trustee of the (Your name) Living Trust.  

Bank Accounts

You should make an appointment with each of your bankers to transfer ownership of your bank account to the trust. When you go, take an updated list of your accounts with the bank or have the banker print one for you. Also take a copy of your trust agreement. If you open new accounts or certificates, please make sure that those new accounts are held in the name of the trust.

piggy bank with gold coins

Option: If your bank requires you to establish a new bank account for your trust and you do not desire to replace your current account for various reasons, you can establish a “Payable on Death” (POD) designation on your bank account to provide that upon your death the account is paid to the Trustee of the ________ Living Trust. This should be handled by your bank.

Brokerage Accounts

The procedure for changing brokerage accounts should be the same as the procedure for transferring your bank accounts.

Stocks and Bonds Held in Certificate Form

If you own stocks and bonds in certificate form, you will need to obtain directions from the transfer agent for each individual stock or bond owned. An alternative would be to have your broker, if you have one, assist you with the transfer. I am often asked to assist my clients in the transfer of these types of assets; please let me know if I can assist you.

Savings Bonds

Savings bonds can be transferred to your trust; you should take your bonds to the bank to be reregistered. Current regulations do not require title to be changed if the total amount of the U.S. Savings Bonds are less than $100,000.

Closely Held Business Interests

If I am the attorney for the business, I can assist you in transferring ownership from the business to the trust. If I am not, you should contact the attorney for the business or whoever is in charge of the ownership record books. If they are not familiar with the use of living trusts or are hesitant to change ownership, please contact me.

Real Estate

modern condos

As part of my service in preparing trusts, I prepare and record deeds transferring your Iowa real estate to your trust. For out-of-state property, you should contact an attorney in the state to complete the transaction. I can refer you to an out-of-state attorney if you do not know of one to assist you. It is particularly important to change ownership of out-of-state real estate. If you don’t, separate probate proceedings may be requited. You should also contact your liability insurance agent and ask them to add your trust as an additional insured on your household and liability policies.

Tangible Personal Property

Unless your household goods and personal effects are quite valuable, I would generally not prepare a bill of sale transferring those goods to your trust. Your will contains provisions regarding the distribution of personal property, and you can also write a list of memorandum specifically providing for the distribution of those goods. You do not need to retitle your automobiles, as your family will be able to sign an affidavit concerning the ownership of the automobile after your death.

Assets with Beneficiary Designations

Your trust will not control the disposition of assets you own with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, and other retirement plans. The beneficiary designation form controls the disposition of those assets. You should avoid listing your estate as the beneficiary of any of these types of assets unless we  have specifically advised you to do so. You may list your trust, individuals or charities as the beneficiary or beneficiaries. If you list beneficiaries other than your trust, please remember that on your death the beneficiary will receive those assets in addition to his or her share of the trust assets.

Changing Trust Provisions

You can amend or revoke your trust at any time. Simply call me and I will prepare the appropriate paperwork.

When you are no Longer the Trustee

two people sitting at table

If you become unable to manage your financial affairs, or if you simply want to have the successor trustee act on your behalf, the successor trustee will need to obtain a separate tax identification number from the IRS and a short form information tax return will need to be filed each year.

Administration of Trust upon your Death

Upon your death, the successor trustee will administer and distribute the trust assets in accordance with the provisions of your trust. If you ever have any questions about the administration of the trust, please contact me.

 Questions?

You probably still have some questions on living trusts…which is why I’m here! Don’t hesitate to contact me by phone (515-371-6077) or email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com). 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 for your success.

Young couple holding hands

So, WHO needs an estate plan, anyway?

Who needs to be most concerned with estate planning? What age group? Ask Iowans this question, and I’ll bet most would conjure up the image of a retiree who just spent 50+ years working hard to acquire significant assets. Of course, it’s important for this demographic to have a quality estate plan, that’s fairly obvious.

But, imagine a young, married couple. They both have good jobs, live in a fine starter home, and have a baby.

 

crying newborn baby

This young couple tries to put away a little bit of money for savings, in a 529 college fund, and for retirement. Why should they worry about estate planning?

The truth is, this young couple should be just as concerned–arguably, even more concerned–with estate planning as the retiree.

Here are four reasons why:

  • Choosing guardians for minor children. In an estate plan, you can choose the guardians of minor children (e.g., children under age 18). If you should become incapacitated, or even die without any estate plan, an Iowa court would have no choice but to appoint a guardian for your children – but it may not be who you wanted or would have chosen. Better to have plenty of time to consider and make a careful, well-reasoned choice.
  • Save on fees, court costs, and taxes. A good estate plan can save you and your estate money on fees, court costs, and taxes. These savings can be even more critically important for a smaller estate (more likely when you’re younger), than for larger estate (more likely as you grow older). Often, young folks actually have the greatest need to save money to pass along the greatest amount they possibly can to family and loved ones.

 

  • Help favorite charities. Having an estate plan means that you can put into place immensely helpful donations for your favorite charities. Without an estate plan there’s no opportunity for you to help your favorite charities
  • Life is uncertain. It may be awkward to talk about, but life isn’t guaranteed for any of us, young or old. There’s an old saying in estate planning circles that goes, “People don’t always die when they are supposed to.” Wives usually outlive their husbands, parents usually outlive their children, and so on, but not always. It is best to be prepared for anything and everything.

 

Mom and daughter hugging

Who should be most concerned with estate planning? I actually think young people should be!

Whatever your age, if you are interested in estate planning (as everyone should want to check it off their list), a good place to start is my free Estate Planning Questionnaire. Questions? Want to discuss you personal situation? Contact me for a free consult!

brown books on shelf

When you hear the word “trust” it’s usually in the context of a belief of reliability of someone, such as: “I trust her to read about the past legal word of the day, quid pro quo.” Trust in the world of estate planning is entirely different, although you can certainly put trust in a well-crafted trust to maximize the benefits of an estate plan!

What is a Trust?

In simplest terms, a trust is a legal agreement between three parties: grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. This allows a third party (the trustee) to hold assets for a beneficiary (or beneficiaries). Trusts can be set up in a variety of ways and specify the details of when and how the assets will pass to the beneficiary. Trusts are a part of a well-crafted estate plan and can be used to minimize fees, costs, and taxes.

Let’s break it down further by looking at each of the three parties to a trust.

Grantor

 

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

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 grantor 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 has been set up yet).

Trust Property

A trust can be either funded or unfunded. By funded, we mean that property has been placed “inside” the trust. This property is sometimes called the “principal” or the “corpus.”

Any Asset

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, vehicles, and so on.

“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 your car, for example, but a form of ownership that holds it for your benefit. For instance, on your car title the owner blank would simply read “the Jane Smith Trust.” It’s common to put real estate (such as farms, homes, vacation homes) and entire accounts (like bank, credit union, and brokerage accounts) into a trust.

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, and so on. The only difference is the property will have a different owner: “The Jane Smith Trust,” not Jane Smith.

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

game of chess

Types of Trusts

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.

One common way to describe trusts is by their relationship to the life of their creator. Those created while the grantor is alive are referred to as inter vivos trusts or living trusts. Trusts created after the grantor has died are called testamentary trusts.

Another way you can describe trusts is by whether they are revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust can be modified by the grantor; an irrevocable trust cannot be modified or terminated without the beneficiary’s permission.”

But again, there are so many types of trusts, and the aforementioned are just a few examples.

Do YOU need a trust?

If you have substantial or complicated assets (for example, you own more than one piece of real estate), own part or all of a robust business, or have any other special circumstances, a trust may be incredibly helpful.

Great Place to Start: Estate Planning Questionnaire

A great place to start is with the estate plan questionnaire, provided to you free, without any obligation. Also, feel free to reach out at any time by email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.

Gordon Fischer at desk with client

I’ve previously written about the six “must have” documents of everyone’s estate plan. These documents include some key people that are essential. But, the terms for some of these roles can be confusing. Let’s review the main ones today.

Who/What is a Beneficiary?

Let’s talk first about beneficiaries. This is a basic term you’ve probably heard before or seen while filling out documents. Your beneficiary is the person to whom you leave your belongings, assets, money, land, etc. Of course you can leave your stuff to more than one person, in which case there would be multiple beneficiaries. With multiple beneficiaries, you’ll have to clearly designate who gets what. This can be done in a number of ways; for example, percentages of total value of the estate, or it can be done with specifics.

An example of percentages:  “I want Beth to inherit 20% of my estate.”

An example of a specific bequest:  “I want my son John to inherit the country house and I want my daughter Suzie Q to inherit the lake house.”

You don’t have to be related to your beneficiaries, and you’re under no obligation to leave anything to family members whom you wish not to receive your assets (no matter how hard that may be or how guilty you might feel). You could elect to leave part or your entire estate to charities. It truly is your choice as to who should benefit under your estate plan.

There’s a lot more to say about beneficiaries, but for now, just remember to make sure all documents are up-to-date. Keeping your estate plan up-to-date ensures you avoid nightmares like your ex-husband from years ago cashing in on your retirement funds.

How about an Executor?

Let’s talk about the executor of the will. An executor is the person who is in charge of your estate plan. They make sure the will is carried out as it is written. It’s not an awful job, but it is an awful lot of responsibility. Most folks, having never had to deal with the execution of a will, might not know how arduous it can actually be. Additionally, your executor might be close to you and grieving your passing while trying to make sure everything is taken care of properly. It can be stressful, to say the least.

When picking an executor, you want to make sure it’s someone you trust. Obvious, right? But, it’s so much more than that. We all have people in our lives we love and trust on a personal level, but we know they’re not responsible with things like finances and details. Those people would not a good executor choice, generally speaking. Look for someone in your life who is detail-oriented and can handle the part-time job of dispensing an estate.

If there’s no such person in your life, or even if there is and you simply don’t want to burden them with the task, there’s another great option: corporate executors or trustees–which can be found at a bank or a credit union. The corporate executor offers the bonus of being completely neutral in all things, which can be helpful if you have sticky family dynamics that might make life difficult for the executor. The corporate executor does come at a cost, which is usually based on the size of the estate. I tend to think you get what you pay for, and this could be an excellent option to consider.

If you do go with an executor you know personally, you’ll want to sit down and talk with them about it. You want them to know that you’ve assigned them the task and why you chose them specifically. And, if you’re choosing one child out of many, you’ll want everyone to be on the same page so there’s no unexpected turbulence after you’re gone.

How about Legal Guardians?

Legal guardians are the folks who will take care of your minor children should something happen to you before they reach the age of 18. Like your executor, this job requires a lot of trust in the person you choose.

Clearly, this is not a job that ends after the estate is closed. Who you decide to choose should be a matter of closeness of relationship (as in bond, not necessarily family ties), mutual values, and ability to handle the responsibility. Have an in-depth conversation with the person or people you choose. You want to confirm that you’re comfortable with their parenting style, make sure they feel they’re up to the job, and let them know why you chose them.

Important Trait in Common: Trust

What’s the key theme in all of these roles from beneficiaries to executors to legal guardians? Trust. The level of trust you have in the people who are involved in and benefit from your estate plan should be strong to be successful. If you ever have any questions about selecting the key players in your estate plan, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Your Estate Plan Should be Unique to You

There it is in a nutshell. Those are the basics of the key people in your estate plan.

Whether your estate plan is simple or complicated, it does require some thought and time, but it’s worth the investment. A proper estate plan can save you and your estate costs, taxes, and fees; help your family and friends; and provide you peace of mind.

Perhaps most importantly, through proper estate planning, you can help your favorite charities in ways large and small.

No Day Like Today

Why not start right now with my Estate Planning Questionnaire? It’s provided to you free, without any obligation.

Do you have an estate plan? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me any time at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.