Category Archives: Living Trusts
Dear Liza: We live in Nebraska. I own a ranch with my brother. Part of it we inherited and a small part we purchased from family members. The total value of the ranch is $2.7 million. We have a buy sell agreement between us. We have estate questions and aren’t sure where to go. We each have other assets of approximately $2 million and $4 million respectively. We have considered a trust; however I have two children and my brother has a second wife and four children. We do not want our offspring to have to deal with each other.
So, that’s a REALLY interesting question, and one that involves trusts, but only tangentially, really. The thing is, regardless of whether your estate plan consists of a Will or a trust, your families are most certainly going to have to deal with each other upon the death of you and your brother. You wrote that you own the ranch together….usually, siblings would own a ranch like that as tenants in common, which means that you each own one-half of it and are free to leave it to whomever you’d like to leave it to upon your death. (The less usual alternative, for siblings, would be as joint tenants, which would mean that the survivor would own the entire property at the death of one of you.)
Assuming you each own your half and can leave it at death to others, how on earth are you going to avoid each family having to work something out? Even a buy-sell agreement will require, at a minimum, that one family buys and the others sells, right? Placing your property into a trust will avoid having to go through probate, and gives you the opportunity to try and plan for reducing conflict down the road. You can each place your interests in different trusts, and specify how each half should be managed upon your deaths.
If you don’t do a trust, then your estate will go through probate, and that in no way reduces the possibility of inter-family conflicts–in fact, it almost invites it, because probate is public, and all interested parties are required to get proper notice and have an opportunity to object to the proposed distribution. With a multi-million property on the table, I would advise you and your brother to hire a good estate planning attorney now to do what you can to anticipate problems and structure the management of the property down the road.
Dear Liza: I’ve read that I could create a trust for my children in a Will, then name that trust as a beneficiary of my retirement account. That way, as I understand it, my successor Trustee could manage those retirement assets for my children until they grow up. But if I do that, will my estate have to go through probate before that trust can be established? Yes, in order to establish a trust that’s created by a Will, your estate would have to go through probate first. What you are describing is called a ‘testamentary trust’ because the trust is created by a Will. The order issued by the court at the end of the probate will incorporate the terms of that trust.
To avoid probate altogether, you should use a living trust to create a trust for the benefit of your children, and put your assets in that trust before you die. You can name that trust as a beneficiary of your retirement account, and, after your death, the successor Trustee will work with the plan administrator for that retirement account to transfer the assets into the trust for your children. That being said, if your children are over eighteen, it’s easier to name them directly as beneficiaries, rather than work through the medium of a trust–which has a slightly different set of rules for how the required minimum distributions are calculated.
Dear Liza: I am trying to prepare a living trust on behalf of my father. He owns his home and vehicles outright and also has two bank accounts. I am the POD beneficiary of all of his accounts, as well as being a secondary signer on his checking and savings accounts. My confusion comes from not knowing what assets should be put in the living trust. Should it just be the home, since that has the highest value? Or should the cars and bank accounts also be included? Or can everything but the house be designated in the pour-over will that I also intend to create? Your father’s living trust has just one purpose: to allow his estate to avoid probate upon his death. If your father’s assets are owned by the trust, not by him, when he dies, then his estate won’t need to go through probate. Not all items are subject to probate, though: retirement accounts, life insurance policies and bank accounts with designated beneficiaries (that’s what a POD account is), go directly to the named beneficiary. Cars can be transferred via the DMV, and so don’t need to go through probate either. So, for your Dad, that leaves his house. You should transfer legal ownership of the house to his trust by filing a trust transfer deed with the county. When you record the deed, you’ll also need to file a Preliminary Change of Ownership Form (PCOR). This form tells the county assessor what kind of transfer just happened; the assessor wants to know if they can raise property taxes on that property, which they can’t, because a transfer to or from a living trust is NOT a change of ownership under Proposition 13. That pour-over Will is just a backup for your Dad. If he doesn’t transfer his house to the trust, and then dies, the Will says transfer whatever property he owned at death to this trust (that’s the pour-over part). But, if the value of that property is more than $150,000, you’ll need to go through probate to make the transfer. Put another way, the Will makes sure that all of your father’s assets get distributed as directed by the trust, but it won’t help his estate avoid probate first.
Dear Liza, My husband and I are having a disagreement about how to set up our living trust. (We are using online trust software.) He says that our will designates how to disperse the trust, after both of us die and the two designated trustees who are in charge of the trust will need to follow the will’s direction and that the trust is merely a holder of property and we don’t “need” to add all the beneficiaries to the trust document, that the will suffices. I say that we need to designate all the beneficiaries in the trust itself and clarify that all the property in the trust, unless specifically designated otherwise, will be inherited equally by our six children and that the will is for designating who gets the red pot or the carpet, etc., that sort of thing. Who’s right? So, one of the really nice things about being an estate planning attorney is that I hardly ever have to weigh in on marital disputes. On this one, though, I’m on your side. As a general rule, a living trust is designed to hold your property that would otherwise be subject to a probate proceeding at the death of the second of you–usually your house and your large brokerage and bank accounts. The assets in that trust pass by the terms of the trust itself. The ‘Trustees can’t follow the instructions in the Will, they have to follow what the trust says.
The Will, in this scenario, is designed to transfer any assets that you owned at death that weren’t in the trust into the trust at that point. That’s why this Will is often called a ‘pour-over’ Will– like the saucer under a teacup, it picks up the property you’ve left outside of the trust and pours it into the trust (the cup) after your death. Often, too, your tangible personal property (jewelry, furniture, red pot, clothes, etc) are distributed under the terms of the Will, but sometimes these assets also pass into the trust to be distributed there. So, make the trust the document that contains your wishes for the distribution of your estate, and let the Will just do the cleanup job for you.
Dear Liza, is it necessary to have both a last will and testament if you have a living trust? Yes, that’s the way it is usually done. There are two main reasons for this. First, if you have minor children, the Will is where you nominate guardians for them. But also the Will provides an important way to make sure your trust is the one set of instructions for who gets what and how it’s managed.
Here’s why: your trust holds the property that you transfer into it during your lifetime. You do this by either recording a deed (for real property) that transfers ownership from you as an individual to you as Trustee, or, in the case of a brokerage or bank account, by filing out paperwork that states that the account is owned by you, as Trustee. (These are called Change of Title Forms at most institutions; sometimes Trust Account Applications or something similar.) However, most people don’t actually transfer all of their assets into such a trust. When they die, often there are everyday checking and savings accounts, cars, or other assets outside of that trust. Sometimes they have simply forgotten to transfer accounts that should have gone into the trust or refinanced a house and taken that house out of the trust in the process, then forgotten to put it back in. So, that’s where the Will comes in–it’s usually a special kind of Will, called a ‘pour-over Will’–and it says that all such property should be poured into the trust/transferred into the trust after a person’s died. That way all of a person’s property will be distributed via the trust. A note of caution: if too much property is held outside of the trust, you will need a probate proceeding before you can transfer ownership to the trust (the trigger amount varies from state to state). So, don’t rely on that Will to make things work–make sure that your major assets are held by the trust during your lifetime.
Hi Liza, I have a living trust and I’m the trustee in the trust. I have a will in the trust. I wanted to make some changes to the will and I’ve been told by my lawyer that I would have to
make another trust if I want to change the people in my will. If the will doesn’t have to go to probate why can’t I just make the changes in the will and have my designated
trustee distribute my estate after I’m dead? One of the people in my will has died, one is in a nursing home and two I haven’t heard from in years. This doesn’t make
any sense to me. Can you explain this to me? Well, truthfully, now I’m a tiny bit confused. It sounds like you have a trust, and in that trust you leave assets to various people. (I think that’s what having a “will in the trust” means.) Assuming that you are the Grantor of that trust (the person who established it) and it’s a revocable trust, you can certainly amend the trust to reflect your current intentions. It is common that we lose touch with people over the years, or change our minds about what we want to do with our assets over time. To make a small change to an existing document you would have your lawyer draft a trust amendment for you to sign, changing whatever sections of the existing trust needs revising. If you are making a lot of changes, you’d do what’s called a Restatement of Trust, which is like having an all-new trust with all current terms, but with the same name as the old trust, so you don’t need to retitle assets that are already in it. Maybe that’s what your lawyer meant by a “new trust.”
Dear Liza: I set up a living trust and back up will naming my 3 minor children as beneficiaries. What if one day, me, my husband and all children die at the same time in an accident?
Both my parents and in-laws do not live in US. If none of me, my husband and children survives, I want our estate to pass to our families in Asia. What is the best way to set this up in my will and living trust? Here’s what you do: put in a section that says that if you, your husband, and all of your children (and their issue–your grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on…) don’t survive you, that you want your estate split equally between your husband’s surviving parents and siblings and your surviving parents and siblings. I call this the “God Forbid Clause” since it covers an unexpected, but not impossible, scenario. You can leave your estate to anyone you choose to of course–family, friends, charities. The important thing is to be specific if you have specific people that you want to benefit. If you don’t really know who to leave your assets to at this point, you could be more lawyerly and less specific and say “your legal heirs” and this would then be determined under the laws of the state in which you executed your estate planning documents. If you name specific people you would say where they presently live. And you would let your Trustee and Executor know how to find them by giving them a list of where your parents/siblings live and how to reach them. If your family lives abroad, the tax treatment of their inheritance will depend upon the laws in that jurisdiction.
Dear Liza: My father died several years ago, after my mother passes the children inherit equally per both their wills and the Family Trust. Can my mother change the terms of the trust now? The documents state that the estate will be equally shared by the surviving children when our mother passes. She has decided this means that she can give everything in the homes to one sibling and that when she passes the homes will be sold and divided between all of the surviving children. It seems to me this is not what Dad wanted. Hmm. So, here’s a not very satisfying answer: MAYBE. It all depends on what your parents set up before your father died. Some family trusts do indeed leave everything in a revocable trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. If that’s what your parents did, then, yes, your mother is free to change the terms of that trust and she is free to give things away during her lifetime as well because the trust assets are all hers. If, however, your parents set up what’s called an “A/B” trust, your mother’s assets would be in a revocable trust that she would be free to change, but your father’s assets (up to the limit of whatever the estate tax exemption was in the year that he died) would be held in an irrevocable trust, which your mother would not be able to change during her lifetime. In California, where I practice, state law requires that you and your siblings would have to be notified after your father died if such an irrevocable trust was established upon his death. Notice requirements differ from state to state, however. Best to find out what your state requires. Your father’s Will probably leaves his tangible personal property (such as clothes, books, etc) to your mother, and then pours whatever else he owned at death into the family trust. So that’s the document that matters in determining what your mother can, and can’t, do now.