The reality of our own mortality keeps some of us up at night. For others, it’s a disturbing thought that is easily brushed aside. Whichever group you belong to, you need to have an estate plan in place. This is the only way that you can have any say in how your assets are distributed after you pass. Without an estate plan, your family will be subjected to much more stress and financial strain. One part of an estate plan is a trust.
Barron’s recent article, “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich,” explains that there are many types of trusts, but the most frequently used for these purposes is a revocable living trust. This trust allows you—the grantor—to specify exactly how your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries when you die, and at the same time avoiding probate and stress for your loved ones.
When you speak with an estate planning attorney about setting up a trust, also ask about your will, healthcare derivatives, a living will and powers of attorney.
Your attorney will have retitle your probatable assets to the trust. This includes brokerage accounts, real estate, jewelry, artwork, and other valuables. Your attorney can add a pour-over will to include any additional assets in the trust. Retirement accounts and insurance policies aren’t involved with probate, because a beneficiary is named.
While you’re still alive, you have control over the trust and can alter it any way you want. You can even revoke it altogether.
A revocable trust doesn’t require an additional tax return or other processing, except for updating it for a major life event or change in your circumstances. The downside is because the trust is part of your estate, it doesn’t give much in terms of tax benefits or asset protection. If that was your focus, you’d use an irrevocable trust. However, once you set up such a trust it can be difficult to change or cancel. The other benefits of a revocable trust are clarity and control— you get to detail exactly how your assets should be distributed. This can help protect the long-term financial interests of your family and avoid unnecessary conflict.
If you have younger children, a trust can also instruct the trustee on the ages and conditions under which they receive all or part of their inheritance. In second marriages and blended families, a trust removes some of the confusion about which assets should go to a surviving spouse versus the children or grandchildren from a previous marriage.
Whether you own five houses or one, drive a late-model car or an old clunker, you need an estate plan. Because estate plans have long-range consequences, the best way to go is to sit down with an estate planning attorney and receive good guidance for your legal, tax and financial situation.
Reference: Barron’s (February 23, 2019) “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich”