Estate Planning Basics: What is the Purpose of a Trust?

Part 1 of Mansour Gavin's Estate Planning Basics series which breaks down the process of helping clients set up Trusts.

Any client who has heard anything about needing an estate plan has heard “Oh, you’ve got to have a trust.” Those same people that are reluctant to get a Will because of uncertainty about what that involves are probably even more intimidated by the thought of getting a trust. Why is that?

Well, most people have at least heard of Wills and have likely seen numerous movies and programs where what the Will stated (or did not state) was the key to solving the mystery. But trusts? Not so much.

So, what exactly IS a trust? In its stark, legal sense, a trust is a contract between a grantor and a trustee, which provides for how the grantor’s assets will be held, administered, and distributed over a period of time. 

And ... what does that mean in language we can understand?

When talking about estate planning and trusts, we often use the terms “Revocable Trust” and “Living Trust.” Just two names for the same thing. There are other kinds of trusts, as well, but for our purposes when we refer to a “Trust,” we’ll be talking about Revocable/Living Trusts.

A trust is a contract a Grantor (the client) enters into with a Trustee. The trust is generally created to provide for management of the client’s assets for his/her benefit. In most jurisdictions, the client can even serve as his or her own trustee. And, the client can change the rules of the Trust whenever necessary, whether because of births/deaths, divorces, changed circumstances of the family, or changes to the tax laws.

The trust agreement spells out how the trust property should be administered for the client’s benefit during his/her lifetime, including how to handle things should the client become incompetent. The trust agreement also provides instructions or what to do when the client has died. Maybe that means paying it all outright right away, or keeping the property in further trust for the client’s spouse, or children, or whomever the client has designated. The point is, a trust provides guidance and direction for how to handle a person’s funds from competence, to incompetence, to death, and perhaps for additional generations.

The client can require as much or as little oversight of this process as desired and place restrictions on if or when a beneficiary can access the funds. 

Trusts are extremely flexible and can simplify a client’s estate plan. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to using a Trust in an estate plan. We will cover those in our next two topics.

You can view the first series of Wills and Probate Administration here and reach out to Dan with any questions. Our attorneys are always ready, willing, and able to meet and discuss any questions, help you articulate your plan and goals, determine the best plan to accomplish them, and then implement it. You will find that, by taking those small steps, the problem that used to lead to procrastination and uncertainty has been addressed and resolved. Learn more about Mansour Gavin’s Estate Planning & Probate group or contact us today. 




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