The estate planning lawyers at our firm place an emphasis on education, because far too many people have misconceptions about wills and trusts. One of the most common ones is the idea that a will is the only choice because trusts are "only for very wealthy people." Trusts are often misunderstood as being only useful for the rich.
Yes, very high net worth individuals can benefit from the utilization of certain types of trusts. These are going to be irrevocable trusts that are used for estate tax avoidance, income tax planning, and asset protection. However, irrevocable trusts are rarely used in an individual's estate plan. A revocable living trust is a tool that is often the best choice for a wide range of different people that do not consider themselves to be among the financial elite. Let’s look at a handful of the benefits that living trusts provide.
A lot of people are under the assumption that you surrender all personal control of assets that you convey into a trust. This is not the case when it comes to a living trust. A "trustee" is the person that administers, or manages, assets in a trust, and you can be the trustee for your own trust. When you establish the trust agreement, you name a successor trustee to handle these chores after you are gone. You can name someone that you know, or you can use a professional fiduciary such as an attorney, certified public accountant, trust company or the trust department of a bank.
Other people assume that they are "giving away" their estate by transferring property into a trust. A "beneficiary" in the trust is the person that enjoys the use of the assets in the trust. You will be the beneficiary and utilize assets in the trust as you see fit for the remainder of your lifetime. You also name a successor beneficiary to receive distributions from the trust after your death. If you choose to do so, you can name multiple beneficiaries.
In other words, since you manage and enjoy your own estate in the trust during your lifetime, you retain full control and use of your property without limitation. Your control is absolute, because you are not forever beholden to the original terms that you set forth when you established the trust declaration. You can change the beneficiaries, and you can name a different trustee. Plus, you can convey additional property into the trust at any time. The trust is a tool that ensures your estate will be managed by the proper person for your designated beneficiaries upon your death.
In fact, you can dissolve the trust entirely if you ever want to because after all, it is a revocable living trust.
As we touched upon above, you can use a professional to act as the trustee after you pass away. Many people will go this route for a number of different reasons. For one, there would be no succession concerns, because the professional trustee (such as a law firm or a bank) will almost always be there upon your death. Secondly, there is going to be professional oversight with regard to the way the trust is administered.
Another benefit is the fact that a professional will know how to invest the trust assets wisely. Lastly, you can rely on the fiduciary to show no favoritism and follow your instructions to the letter without emotion.
You do not have to instruct the trustee to distribute everything in the trust right after your passing. For example, you could allow for set monthly distributions to the beneficiaries, or you could direct the trustee to distribute only the earnings without dipping into the principal at all. Some people will allow for larger, lump sum distributions when the beneficiaries reach certain age thresholds.
Of course, you could give the trustee latitude with regard to emergency distributions. The exact details are up to you, and this is another great benefit that you gain if you utilize a revocable living trust as your primary asset transfer vehicle.
Alzheimer’s disease strikes approximately four out of every 10 people that are 85 years of age or older. Of course, some people become unable to make sound decisions for other reasons, and incapacity can strike at a younger age. To account for this, you could empower the successor trustee, or a different individual or entity, to act as the trustee in the event of your incapacity.
If you would like to learn more about Reno wills and trusts and other estate planning matters, attend one of our upcoming Webinars. They are free to attend, and you can get all the details if you visit our Webinar information page. Or you can call us to arrange a free consultation to discuss living trusts, or other estate planning matters, at (775) 823-9455.