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It is a common misconception that trusts, or trust funds as they are commonly called, are only useful for wealthy people. When set up properly, trusts can be appropriate for people with minor children or those who want to avoid having their estate go through probate upon death. These are basic facts about trusts – An attorney experienced with estate planning and trust matters before making any final decisions about if one is right for you.

David J. Franks Attorney at law can help you determine if you need a trust and how it should be structured “Call us today!” 563-359-4351

How Trusts Work

Creating a trust (or trust fund) establishes a legal entity that holds property or assets for the person who created it. The person who creates the trust can be called a grantor, donor, or settler. When the grantor creates the trust he or she appoints a person or entity to manage the trust. This person or entity is called a trustee. The grantor also chooses someone who will ultimately benefit from the trust, this person is the beneficiary. In some situations the grantor, trustee, and beneficiary are all the same person. In this case, the grantor should also appoint a successor trustee and beneficiary in case he or she dies or becomes incapacitated. A trust is a helpful estate planning tool because after death a trust doesn’t go through the probate process like a will does.

Do I need to setup a trust?

Some common reasons for setting up a trust include:

  • Providing for minor children or family members who are inexperienced or unable to handle financial matters
  • Providing for management of personal assets should one become unable to handle them oneself
  • Avoiding probate and immediately transferring assets to beneficiaries upon death
  • Reducing estate taxes and providing liquid assets to help pay for them
  • The terms of a will are public while the terms of a trust are not, so privacy makes a trust an attractive option

Types of Trusts

Trusts can be living or after-death. A living trust is one that a grantor sets up while still alive and an after-death trust is usually established by a will after one’s death. Living trusts can be irrevocable or revocable although revocable trusts don’t receive the same tax shelter benefits as irrevocable ones do. The most popular type is the revocable living trust. If there’s a specific purpose in mind for the trust, dozens of different options exist. Some examples include charitable trusts, bypass trusts, spendthrift trusts, and life insurance trusts. New laws have even established a trust that will care for a pet after one’s death.

Setting up A Trust

Once you’ve decided to set up a trust it is important to remember that a trust, by design, can be very flexible and a grantor has the right – and should take advantage of this right – within the law, to tailor it to meet the anticipated the needs of the beneficiary. Working with an experienced attorney that specializes in estate and trust issues and knows the specific state regulations can help get the maximum benefit from the trust.
Some things to consider when setting up the trust include:

  • The grantor has the right to specify exactly how the money in the trust is invested. The grantor and the trustee might have very different ideas about investment strategies, so make sure this gets clearly defined.
  • The grantor has the right to specify exactly how the assets should be divvied up down to details like including an annual cost of living adjustment for the beneficiary or paying for travel expenses for others to visit the beneficiary in the case of illness.
  • Always be sure to include a “trustee removal clause” – trusts that don’t have this clause take away the beneficiary’s right to fire the trustee if unsatisfied with the service being provided. Remember that the grantor can always add a provision that requires the beneficiary to select a new trustee from legitimate bank trust departments
  • If the grantor wants to ensure that upon death any assets that remain outside of the trust are transferred to it, he or she should consider having a “pour-over” will to accomplish this.

Upon establishment of the trust the grantor must complete the process of setting up the trust by transferring his or her assets into the trust. Failure to do this properly makes the trust null and void. This means that upon the grantor’s death the state will decide who gets the assets and cares for minor children.

Protect Yourself from Trust Scams and Fraud

If someone approaches you to set up a trust be very cautious. Before signing any papers to create a living trust, will or other kind of trust make sure to explore all options and shop around for this service just as you would for any other. Also:

  • Avoid high-pressure sales tactics and high speed sales pitches.
  • Avoid salespeople who give the impression that AARP is backing or selling the product – AARP does not endorse living trust products.
  • Do your homework and get information about local probate laws from the Clerk or Register of Wills.
  • If someone tries to sell a living trust to you ask if they are an attorney. Some states restrict sales of living trusts by licensed attorneys.
  • If you buy a trust in your home or another location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business remember you are entitled to take advantage of the “cooling off rule” and cancel the transaction within 3 business days.
  • Probate
  • The court process by which a Will is proved valid or invalid. The legal process wherein the estate of a decedent is administered.
  • When a person dies, his or her estate must go through probate, which is a process overseen by a probate court. If the decedent leaves a will directing how his or her property should be distributed after death, the probate court must determine if it should be admitted to probate and given legal effect. If the decedent dies intestate—without leaving a will—the court appoints a Personal Representative to distribute the decedent’s property according to the laws of Descent and Distribution. These laws direct the distribution of assets based on hereditary succession.
  • In general, the probate process involves collecting the decedent’s assets, liquidating liabilities, paying necessary taxes, and distributing property to heirs. Probate procedures are governed by state law and have been the subject of debate and reform since the 1960s.
    • The probate of a will means proving its genuineness in probate court. Unless otherwise provided by statute, a will must be admitted to probate before a court will allow the distribution of a decedent’s property to the heirs according to its terms.
    • As a general rule, a will has no legal effect until it is probated. A will should be probated immediately, and no one has the right to suppress it. The person with possession of a will, usually the personal representative or the decedent’s attorney, must produce it. Statutes impose penalties for concealing or destroying a will or for failing to produce it within a specified time.
    • Probate proceedings are usually held in the state in which the decedent had domicile or permanent residence at the time of death. If, however, the decedent owned real property in a another state, the will disposing of these assets must also be probated in that state. To qualify as a will in probate, an instrument must be of testamentary character and comply with all statutory requirements. A document is testamentary when it does not take effect until after the death of the person making it and allows the individual to retain the property under personal control during her or his lifetime. A will that has been properly executed by a competent person—the testator—as required by law is entitled to be probated, even if some of its provisions are invalid, obscure, or cannot be implemented.
    • A will made as a result of Fraud or Undue Influence or a will that has been altered so that all its provisions are revoked will be denied probate. If the alteration only revokes certain provisions of the will, the remaining provisions can be admitted to probate.
    • All separate papers, instruments, or sheets comprising the most recent of a testator’s wills will be admitted to probate. Where a later will does not explicitly revoke all prior wills, two separate and distinct wills can be probated. Probate courts seek to carry out the declared intention of a testator regarding the disposition of property, and they resort to distributing property according to the law of descent and distribution only where no reasonable alternatives exist.
    • As a general rule, the original document must be presented for probate. Probate of a copy or duplicate of a will is not permitted unless the absence of the original is satisfactorily explained to the court. If a properly proved copy or duplicate of a will that has been lost or destroyed is presented to the court, it may be admitted to probate. Some states have special proceedings to handle such occurrences. A thorough and diligent search for the will is necessary before a copy can be probated as a lost will.
    • A codicil, which is a supplement to a will, is entitled to be probated together with the will it modifies, if it is properly executed according to statute. If it is complete in itself and can stand as a separate testamentary instrument independent of the will, the codicil alone can be admitted to probate. A codicil that has been subsequently revoked by another codicil is not entitled to probate.