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.
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.
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.