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Living trusts are statutory documents that allow you to transfer ownership of your assets to a trustee, who will manage them on behalf of your heirs. Unlike a will, a living trust takes effect immediately, and you can revoke or amend it anytime during your lifetime.

Essential Details of a Living Trust

A living trust, commonly known as an inter vivos trust, is a legal paper that authorizes you to transfer ownership of your assets into a trust during your lifetime. The trust is controlled by a trustee, who is generally the individual who created the trust. You can name yourself the trustee or nominate someone else to handle the trust. The assets transferred into the trust are no longer held by you but by the trust. It implies that when you pass away, the assets held in the trust will be allocated to your inheritors according to your instructions in the trust document.

Moreover, to create a living trust, you'll need to prepare a trust document that summarizes the terms of the trust, including the trustee, the inheritors, and the assets you're transferring to the trust. You'll then need to transfer ownership of your assets to the trustee, who will handle them on behalf of your heirs.

One of the benefits of a living trust is that it lets your assets pass directly to your heirs without going through probate. Probate is the lawful procedure that validates your will and allocates your assets to your beneficiaries. It can be lengthy and costly and tie up your assets for months or even years. With a living trust, your assets can pass to your beneficiaries immediately after death without probate.

How to Create a Living Trust

Before making a living trust, it's necessary to understand the basics of what a living trust is and how it varies from a will. A living trust is a statutory document allowing you to transfer ownership of your assets to a trust during your lifetime and then allocate them to your preferred heirs upon demise. It indicates that the assets are no longer held by you but by the trust. On the other hand, a will is a legal document that summarizes your wishes to distribute your assets after your demise but does not transfer ownership of your assets during your lifetime. Below are some steps you must follow to create a living trust.

  1. Determine What Assets You Want to Include in the Trust. The primary step in creating a living trust is deciding what assets you want to include. It can comprise bank accounts, real estate, investment accounts, and private property. You will need to transfer ownership of these assets to the trust by modifying the title of the assets to the name of the trust.
  2. Pick a Trustee. The trustee is the individual or entity accountable for handling the assets in the trust. It can be you or pick someone else to act as the trustee. If you select someone else, ensure it is someone you trust to manage your assets according to your wishes.
  3. Prepare the Trust Document. Once you decide what assets to include in the trust and who will serve as the trustee, it's time to prepare the document. You can hire an attorney to draft the document or use an online service or a do-it-yourself guide. The trust document should include the following:
    • The name of the trustee
    • The name of the trust
    • The names of the heirs
    • The instructions for handling and distributing the assets in the trust
    • The conditions under which the assets will be allocated to the heirs
    • The instructions for appointing a successor trustee if the original trustee is unable to serve
    • The instructions for managing the trust if you become incapacitated
  4. Finance the Trust. Once you have prepared the trust document, you must finance the trust by transferring ownership of the assets to the trust. It can concern changing the title of the assets to the name of the trust or designating the trust as the beneficiary of the assets.
  5. Check and Revise the Trust Periodically. Checking and updating the trust is important to ensure it reflects your wishes and meets your needs. It is especially important if your personal or financial situation changes, such as getting married, divorced, having children, or acquiring new assets.
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Advantages of a Living Trust

Below are some key advantages of a living trust.

  • Avoiding Probate. One of the primary advantages of a living trust is that it lets you avoid probate. Probate is the lawful process that takes place after an individual passes away. It involves the tribunal validating the will, determining and valuing the deceased's assets, settling any unpaid taxes and debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs named in the will. In addition, probate can be time-consuming and costly and can tie up your assets for months or even years. Transferring your assets into a living trust indicates you can avoid probate altogether. The assets in the trust will be distributed to your heirs according to your instructions without the court involvement requirement.
  • Control. A living trust also gives you tremendous control over your assets' distribution after you pass away. You can determine exactly how you want your assets to be allocated and include detailed instructions for your trustee to follow. It can be especially helpful if you have complicated family dynamics or want to guarantee that your assets are used for a specific purpose, such as funding your grandchildren's education.
  • Privacy. Another advantage of a living trust is that it provides privacy. Probate is a public procedure, indicating anyone can access the court documents and find out the particulars of your estate. It comprises the names of your beneficiaries, the value of your assets, and any debts or liabilities you may have had. Moreover, using a living trust lets you keep your estate details private. Since the trust is not subject to probate, there is no need for court involvement, and the particulars of your estate will not become a public record.
  • Flexibility. A living trust is also a flexible estate planning tool. You can modify or revoke the trust anytime during your lifetime, as long as you are of sound mind. It implies you can change the trust as your circumstances or wishes change. Additionally, a living trust can be structured to provide for your loved ones over an extended period. For instance, you can include requirements for ongoing support for a disabled beneficiary or your grandchildren's education.
  • Asset Protection. Eventually, a living trust can offer some asset protection benefits. If you are sued or encounter monetary difficulties, the assets held in the trust may be protected from creditors. It is because you do not technically own the assets in the trust and may not be subject to attachment or seizure.

Key Terms for Living Trusts

  • Transparency: The openness and transparency with which a person, company, or system communicates and performs operations. Transparency is necessary for building trust because it helps to establish responsibility and fosters trust in the reliability and integrity of the system.
  • Trust: Confidence in the reliability and integrity of a person, organization, or system. Trust involves believing that the person, organization, or system will act responsibly and competently.
  • Accountability: The obligation of a person or organization to answer for their actions and choices. Accountability is necessary for building trust because it establishes a sense of accountability and ownership for one's actions.
  • Integrity: The adherence to a set of ethical regulations and values. Integrity is necessary for building trust because it demonstrates a dedication to ethical behavior and honesty.
  • Consistency: The degree to which an individual, organization, or system behaves predictably and reliably. Consistency is important for building trust because it helps to establish expectations and reduces uncertainty.

Final Thoughts on Living Trusts

Creating a living trust can be smart for individuals who want to protect their assets and avoid the probate process. Moreover, by following the steps above, you can create a living trust that meets your needs and ensures that your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes.

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