A living trust is a common estate planning tool that helps express your wishes for your estate while you are alive, as well as when you pass away. One benefit a trust provides is that it is not subject to probate (public records), and thus provides you with some privacy. This aspect can also help minimize costs if there are real estate assets held in multiple states; each state would require a probate filing, adding filing charges and attorney fees to your costs.
Trusts are also helpful in preserving rights to assets for blended families. If you want to assure that your children receive an inheritance, you may wish to craft your trust document to specifically leave a portion of the estate to them. Otherwise, there is nothing to stop your current spouse from receiving 100 percent of the assets and changing his or her plans after you have died.
The main components of a trust consist of the grantor (creator), the trustee to manage the trust, and the named beneficiaries who are entitled to the income and/or assets. You also need to name successor beneficiaries (if you and/or your spouse die), successor trustees to continue to make competent decisions, and any freedoms or restrictions you want afforded. One example is delayed distribution of principal to younger beneficiaries. What could happen if your beneficiary inherits $250,000 or more at age 19? It may be wise to set up the trust to parcel out the funds (e.g. 25 percent at age 23, 25 percent at age 28, and the final 50 percent at age 35), so they can learn the skills to manage significant wealth.
Important last steps are to fund your trust by changing the title of your taxable assets, such as your bank account, real estate, brokerage accounts and mutual funds. Not properly funding a trust is a common estate planning mistake. You can also create a pour-over will, which allows the executor to place any assets into the trust that were accidentally left out.
Finally, it is important to communicate your plan to your loved ones. They will appreciate your diligence, and it can greatly simplify an already difficult time in their lives.