Month: June 2023

How to Set Up a Trust

How to set up a trust

A trust is one of the most effective tools for creating a successful financial plan. They can reduce the overall tax burden, provide for your loved ones, and give you some control to ensure your wishes are carried out after you’re gone. However, trusts are also complicated legal arrangements that can be confusing, leaving some people wondering where to start.

Here we’ll review the basics and best practices of setting up a trust. We should say at the outset that we do not recommend attempting to create a trust on your own and strongly advise you to consult with an attorney to ensure your trust meets all legal requirements.

Trust Basics

A trust is a legal arrangement whereby one person holds property for the benefit of another. What does that mean? It’s easier to understand by thinking of the three principal parties to a trust: the settlor, the trustee, and the beneficiary.

The settlor (also called a grantor or trustor) is the person who creates the trust. They provide the property which will fund the trust, decide who will benefit from the arrangement, and define the rules by which the trust operates.

The beneficiary is the person who benefits from the arrangement. Put another way, the beneficiary is the person (or persons) whom the settlor wishes to help by creating the trust.

The trustee is the person who is responsible for managing the trust property and ensuring the terms of the trust are carried out.

Here’s an example: A single parent who owns an apartment building has a will that states that if they die before their child reaches age 25, the title to the apartment building will be transferred to a trust to be managed by their attorney. Any income generated by the building will be used to pay for the child’s care until they are 18, and then the child will receive monthly cash payments from the income until they are 25, at which point they take full ownership of the building. In the meantime, the attorney is responsible for maintaining the building, paying property taxes, etc., and is entitled to compensation for their efforts. In this scenario, the parent is the settlor, the child is the beneficiary, and the attorney is the trustee.

Setting Up the Trust

If you’re interested in creating a trust, follow these basic steps.

1. Define Your Goals

Trusts are a versatile tool that can be used for many purposes. You may wish to establish a charitable legacy, provide care for family members, or reduce the tax burden on your estate. Knowing your goals will help you make the best decisions for your trust.

2. Identify the Assets You Will Place in the Trust

Knowing your goals, consider the property at your disposal and how it can be used to fund the trust.

3. Identify Your Beneficiaries

Be clear on who you want to benefit from your trust. It can be anyone, from your spouse or children to a charitable foundation.

4. Decide Your Trustee

This is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. A trustee can be a family member, an attorney, or even an institution such as a bank. It should be someone you trust, but the trustee should also be someone who can handle financial matters, such as paying taxes and investing money. It is common for the attorney who drafted the trust documents to serve as trustee, but additional safeguards should be in place to ensure the attorney has not abused their position for their own gain.

5. Have an Attorney Draft the Documents

Trusts shouldn’t be handled on a DIY basis, as many rules must be followed. If done improperly, the result may be that your wishes are not followed after you pass away. Meet with a lawyer with experience in trusts, tell them what you want, and they should be capable of creating the necessary documents.  

Getting Started

If you know what you want or need help exploring your options for creating a trust, the next step is to meet with an attorney. Our estate-planning experts have years of experience drafting trusts, wills, and other legal instruments that will accomplish your goals and survive legal scrutiny if challenged.

To schedule your initial consultation, contact our office today.

Proposition 13: What Is It and How Can We Help

Proposition 13

Proposition 13, or Prop 13 as it’s often called, is one of California’s more famous voter-approved propositions, as it has profoundly affected homeownership and the housing market in the state for over 40 years. Depending on who you ask, it’s been instrumental in keeping older people from losing their homes due to unreasonable tax increases, or it’s kept young people stuck perpetually renting their homes and primarily benefited corporations by slashing their property taxes.

Whether or not you agree with Proposition 13, it’s good to know the facts. Let’s discuss what it is and how having the services of a real estate attorney may help you navigate its intricacies and save you thousands of dollars per year.

What Is Proposition 13?

Prop 13 was an amendment to the California Constitution approved by state voters in 1978. It was meant to address the problem of California’s rapidly increasing home values resulting in massive increases in property taxes that could force people out of their homes. For example, a retired person who had purchased their home 30 years ago for $50,000 could quickly find their home assessed at a value of $300,000, which would cause a 600% spike in property taxes.

The key components of Prop 13 are:

  • Property taxes are capped at 1% of the property’s assessed value
  • While the same person holds the property, the total property tax can only increase at a maximum annual rate of 2%
  • When title to the real estate is transferred to another person, the value is then reassessed

Reassessment typically leads to higher property taxes for the new owner, as real estate prices in the state have traditionally risen at an annual rate far greater than 2%. Suppose the new assessed value is lower than the original assessed value (perhaps due to economic recession). In that case, the property’s value will be reassessed annually until it matches or exceeds the original assessed value. At this point, the normal 2% rules kick in.

Crucially, not all transfers of title will trigger a reassessment. Here are some of the most common scenarios in which a property can be transferred without reassessment.

  • Transfers between spouses
  • Transfers from parent to child
  • Transfers from grandparent to grandchild, if both parents of the grandchild are deceased
  • For people aged 55 or older, replacement of a principal residence of equal or lesser value in the same county or in one of the so-called “accommodating counties,” wherein the assessed value of the former home may be carried over to the new home
  • Transfer upon the owner’s death to a co-owner who has been residing at the property for more than a year before the other owner’s death

Taking Advantage of Proposition 13’s Benefits

Knowing how Prop 13 works and how to take full advantage of it can lead to significant tax savings. This is mainly accomplished by transferring the title in such a way as to avoid reassessment because, in case it wasn’t already clear, reassessment is seldom good. For example, a home with an assessed value of $150,000 could easily be reassessed at $500,000, with property taxes jumping from $1,500 to $5,000.

If you are planning on selling or gifting your home to a family member, domestic partner, or someone similar, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney to make sure that transfer is done in such a way as to avoid reassessment. Talking to one of our experienced real estate experts can save you or your loved ones thousands of dollars in unnecessary tax bills. To schedule a consultation, contact our office today.