When you hear the phrase “trust fund” you may think of wealthy families like the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts. However, trusts today are useful for families with estates of all sizes. A trust is essentially a money management tool that designates a fiduciary, called the trustee, to manage the trust’s assets. The trust creator, called the grantor, determines the terms of the trust such as who will be the beneficiaries and under what circumstances the trustee can make distributions from the trust. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable, and they help clients accomplish a wide variety of estate planning goals.
One benefit that a properly funded trust can provide is to ensure a smooth transition of assets upon the death of the grantor — without need for probate. For example, if you own your house in your sole name upon your passing, before the house can be sold or transferred, a petition would have to be filed in the local probate court in order to name a fiduciary (called the Personal Representative). This process can take several months or longer. However, if the house was transferred to a trust before you passed away, the trustee would have immediate authority to take action and manage trust assets pursuant to the terms of the trust.
In addition to avoiding probate, trusts are important tools for those who wish to (1) leave assets to minor and/or disabled beneficiaries, (2) remove assets from their estate to minimize estate tax, or (3) protect their assets from Medicaid recovery. A trust is no longer an estate planning tool just for the wealthy, and creating one may be a useful way to ensure your family is protected long after you’re gone.