Over the past few years the popularity of Living Trusts has skyrocketed. No longer a tool just for the rich, Living Trusts are one of the most common estate planning tools in use today. This legal arrangement creates a separate entity called a Living Trust.
A Living Trust is called that simply because it is created while you’re alive (as opposed to a “testamentary” trust created after death). The Living Trust document itself names three different parties. The individual (or couple) that establishes the Trust is named the Grantor (also referred to as the Trustor). The Trustee is the person named by the Trust as the controller of the Trust’s assets (and in many cases, the Trustees are the same people as the Grantors). On the receiving end, the Beneficiaries are the heirs that will benefit from the Trust once the Grantor’s have passed away. Almost anyone with an estate of $100,000 or more can benefit from having a living trust. Estates of $100,000 or more are often subjected to probate in their state of residence, which can cost anywhere from 2%-4% of the estate’s value in court and legal fees.
The living trust also is useful for individuals subject to estate taxes. Through a living trust, a couple is able to maximize their Unified Credit to its fullest. It even accomplishes protection for individuals wanting to avoid conservatorship. Advanced living trusts can be structured for complicated family situations. Re-married spouses, with children from a previous marriage, can use an advanced revocable trust to ensure kids receive their proper inheritance. Living Trusts avoid probate, since they are completely private. Because a trust is recognized as a separate legal entity, distributions can be made by a Trustee to named beneficiaries without any involvement from the courts. The courts maintain no control over the Trust’s assets, and do not tie up the assets in a lengthy (and costly) probate process. The Trustee simply distributes assets to named heirs, but only if those assets have actually been placed inside the Trust. Because the Trust is essentially controlled by one individual (the Trustee), that person can carry out your wishes when you’re not able to. For instance, if you have children from a previous marriage and wish to leave them an inheritance, specific instructions to the Trustee will ensure that they receive what you had requested. If you’re institutionalized or unable to care for yourself anymore, the Trust can still function and make distributions as needed. The Trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to see that your requests are fulfilled exactly. He or she can even provide care and protection for disabled relatives or handicapped children in accordance with your wishes.
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