There are so many misconceptions around trusts, especially thinking trusts are only for wealthy people, according to a recent article, “2 Key Benefits of Living Trusts” from Forbes. During your lifetime, a living trust is an extension of yourself. There are no tax benefits or tax liabilities until you die, when living trusts provide benefits compared to assets not held in trust.
What happens to different types of assets after death?
If you own assets with beneficiary designations, these will be passed to beneficiaries outside of probate. These are typically retirement accounts, life insurance, some investment accounts, pensions and annuities.
If you have joint ownership of assets, they will become the property of the surviving joint owner(s) after death. The most common jointly owned assets are real estate, bank and investment accounts.
If you own assets as an individual, they will go through probate. While bank and investment accounts do permit transfer-on-death (TOD) and payable-on-death (POD) elections to bypass probate, this is not appropriate for every situation.
Two of the most common benefits of having a living trust are avoiding probate or reducing the probate estate and having greater control over the distribution of assets.
If one spouse passes and owns all liquid funds (and/or a privately owned business) in their own name, the survivor may be left without funds to pay bills while the probate estate is being settled. Having a living will means the survivor, if named as a beneficiary of the trust, has access to assets during probate.
Probate also incurs expenses and can take months to settle an estate. Any assets going to through probate become part of the public record, which can create a host of other issues. A large estate in probate can become a burden on the surviving spouse and family.
When assets go through probate, the court has the final word on how assets are distributed. This may align with your will, but it might not. Suppose assets are held in a living trust. In that case, probate or at least reduce the number of assets going through probate and control the distribution of the assets without your personal financial information becoming part of the public record.
Your estate planning attorney can create a living trust, naming you as the trustee and a person to serve as a successor trustee. Your successor trustee will be responsible for distributing the assets in the trust upon your death.
There are many ways to create the trust. The spouse is typically the successor trustee, with varying levels of access to assets during the surviving partner’s lifetime, with the remainder going to children or relatives. Trust laws are state-specific, so speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a trust that suits your unique situation.
Reference: Forbes (Jan. 24, 2024) “2 Key Benefits of Living Trusts”