Want to leave assets of any kind to loved ones? You’ll need to plan ahead. There are a number of options used to pass wealth to the next generation, including a last will and testament. This is a legal document designating someone to be in charge of your estate after you die and telling them how you want your assets to be divided.
Another means of passing assets along is explained in the recent article from The Motley Fool, “3 Reasons to Seriously Consider Using a Living Trust to Pass Inheritance to Your Family.” A living trust is a legal entity created while you are living to hold assets and designates someone to manage and disburse them based on specific directions in the trust document. You don’t have to be wealthy to have a trust.
While these two instruments sound similar, they have unique elements, making one better than another in certain situations. For many people, a living trust can benefit the individual making the trust (the grantor) and their families. Here are a few to consider.
Maintaining privacy. Wills must go through probate, a court-supervised process to review the decedent’s assets, approve their executor and rule on the will’s validity. Because the will is under the court’s review, it becomes public information. In most jurisdictions, anyone who wants to see your will can. They can also see who received what assets.
If you have concerns about maintaining your privacy or the privacy of your heirs, it may be worthwhile to create a trust. This will keep your assets and your heir’s receipt of assets private. The only people who know what’s in a trust are the grantor, the trustee who manages the trust and the beneficiaries.
Avoiding long delays. Since a trust doesn’t go through probate, it may be possible for the trustee to make distributions of assets much faster. The executor typically needs to file the will for probate and wait for the process to be concluded. Only then can they carry out the directions of a will.
When assets are in a trust, the trustee can implement the terms of the trust more quickly. This can significantly help loved ones, especially if they have paid for long-term care, hospital bills, funeral expenses, etc. If they were relying on an inheritance to cover these costs, the faster the trust can reimburse them, the better.
Managing assets if you become incapacitated. One of the biggest advantages of having a trust over a will is its value during your lifetime. A will doesn’t take effect until you die. On the other hand, a living trust with a successor trustee allows the successor to manage the trust if you become incapacitated and cannot serve as the primary trustee.
Whether you have a trust or not, you will want to name a Power of Attorney who will manage your financial and legal affairs if you cannot do so. However, financial institutions can be challenging when dealing with a POA.
Changing the trustee does not impact the trust’s status as a separate legal entity. The successor trustee steps in, and financial institutions will generally be on notice as long as the initial trust documents specify who the successor trustee will be.
Talk with your estate planning attorney about using a living trust as part of your estate plan. It may be wise to use a combination of a will and a trust to achieve your desired outcome. Do remember estate planning is not just for what happens after you die but for preparing to care for yourself and your family while you are living. A living trust could serve you and your family well, during life and after death.
Reference: The Motley Fool (Oct. 31, 2023) “3 Reasons to Seriously Consider Using a Living Trust to Pass Inheritance to Your Family”