Category Archives: Trusts
Dear Liza: My father recently died. My dad had a trust set up naming me as the trustee and my brother, sister, and I are to split my dad’s assets evenly. I have set up a trust account at his bank (B of A) and have funneled funds into that trust account from his other bank accounts. I mailed off claim forms to a few companies in regards to his stock and annuity assets. Met Life is saying that we need an “ESTATE” and it needs to list me as the executor of the estate. She said that an estate and a trust are two different things and they needed an estate not trust. What is she talking about? It sounds like you are doing a good job as Trustee. It also sounds like the annuity at Met Life may not have a named beneficiary, which would mean that is passes to your father’s estate (and not to the trust).
Here’s the overview: your father had certain assets in his trust. But he, like most people, also owned assets NOT held in the trust, most typically these are retirement accounts (like IRA’s and annuities) or life insurance policies which have named beneficiaries.
When a person dies, these assets go the named beneficiaries. But if a person didn’t name a beneficiary, or named a spouse who then died first and forgot to update the form, these assets then usually pass to a person’s estate (though that’s up to each company’s rules).
In California, where I practice, if that annuity is worth less than $150,000, there’s a simple way to get MetLife to transfer it to you, as Trustee of his trust using a Declaration allowed by the Probate Code. If that annuity is worth more than $150,000, though, you will either have to open a probate proceeding and be named as the executor and then work with MetLife to transfer the asset, or use a court Petition to transfer the asset to the trust via his Will (if it was what’s called a Pour-Over Will, which would be typical).
Each state has a similar threshold, called a Small Estates limit. To find out what your state’s limit is, visit Legal Consumer.com and go to the Inheritance Law Section, which I wrote. (Full disclosure). Enter your zip code and you can find out your state’s small estate limit.
The first step is to ask MetLife who the beneficiary of the policy is. Then, if your father didn’t name anyone, you should probably seek professional help to chart the next steps.
Dear Liza: I’m an executor of a trust and was added as co-trustee on the trust while my mom was alive. She is now at peace with dad. Can I now just distribute the funds per the trust without changing the trust first to an irrevocable trust and providing a new TIN to the credit union prior to the distribution? Sorry. That’s not going to work. Now that your mother is dead, the trust is already irrevocable and you can’t use her Social Security number to report income, that’s why you need to get a new tax identification number for the trust. But it’s handy to have. Here’s why.
From the date of her death to the date that you distribute all of the trust’s funds, any income earned by the trust must be reported under that new tax identification number. Now that the trust is irrevocable, you’ll also need to file a 1041 tax return if the trust earns more than $600 worth of income in a year. Also, you’ll need that tax identification number to open up a bank account in the name of trust, which you can use to consolidate the trust’s assets prior to distribution and to pay its expenses.
And if you are thinking that you will avoid all of this by instantly distributing the trust’s assets, don’t. You shouldn’t just immediately distribute all of the trust’s funds, please wait until you’re sure you’ve paid all of the expenses and taxes due first. If you do distribute all of the assets, and then find a trust liability that you didn’t know about before, you as Trustee, must either personally pay that liability or go back to the beneficiaries and try to get the money back.
To find out how to get an EIN, visit the Inheritance Law section of Legal Consumer.com, put in your zip code, and read the article that explains how to do it. (Full disclosure, I wrote that too).
Dear Liza: Can real estate that still has a mortgage on it be placed in a trust? Yes, you can place real property with a mortgage into a revocable living trust. That is, in fact, quite common. Most people, after all, don’t own their houses free and clear when they set up their living trusts. But transferring real property into the trust does not change your obligation to continue to pay the mortgage–if you don’t pay, they can still take back the house. And, if you refinance the house at some future time, the lender may ask you to take the house out of the trust to get the new loan, then put it back in. This is annoying, but not a deal-breaker. Not all lenders require this, but many do.
Federal legislation passed in the 1980’s (the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Regulation Act) says that the transfer of real property into a revocable living trust does not trigger what’s called a ‘due on sale’ clause in a mortgage–which would allow the lender to demand that you repay the loan in full, as if you’d sold the property to a new owner.
So, to summarize, it’s fine to put your house into a revocable trust to avoid probate, even if that house is subject to a mortgage.
Dear Liza: My parents both have recently passed away. They had a revocable trust. What type if tax ID do I need? I created one for the “Estate” type, but should I have made it for the “Trust” type? I am the trustee. Getting a new tax identification number for a trust that has become irrevocable due to the death of the settlor is a task every new Trustee has to face. The trust needs a new tax identification number to report income earned from the date of death of the settlor to the time when when the trust is distributed to the beneficiaries.
After the last settlor dies, you can’t use their Social Security Number any longer (because they’re dead), so you have to get a new tax id. It sounds like you went online to get the tax id from the IRS. You are right, you should have asked for the number to be set up for an irrevocable trust, not an estate. Don’t panic though, just follow the instructions here to correct that error.
For more information on how to deal with taxes and other trust administrative issues, the Trustee’s Legal Companion (which I co-wrote) is a great resource (honest, it is). For a step-by-step guide to getting an EIN, go to Legal Consumer.com. You’ll find free inheritance law information (which I wrote, too) for all states except Louisiana–just enter your zipcode and look for the article entitled “How to Get a Tax ID number.”
Dear Liza: My wife and I are are planning to initiate an estate plan soon but we keep running into the issue of how to leave everything to our 28 year old son. He would be the only recipient as we have no other children, but he has no financial proficiency whatsoever and we have no expectations that he will ever achieve any. We we fairly certain that if we just leave anything to him it will be gone in less than five years. I would like your advice on how to handle this situation. So, the first thing that I want to say is that you’re not alone. I work with lots of people who struggle with some variety of this issue. The second thing that I want to say is that it sounds like you have a fairly clear idea of what could happen if you left your son his inheritance outright and free of trust, so trust that.
No pun intended, but actually leaving his money in trust is one option. In your estate plan, you could leave him his money in a trust, and appoint a trusted friend, or a bank, or a financial company to serve as Trustee. The money could be for his benefit, but it would not be invested or distributed by him. That kind of trust could last for his entire lifetime, and, since it would be held in an irrevocable trust, would not be available to his creditors or to his spouse (if he got married). If you hold it in a lifetime trust, though, you should name an institution as Trustee, since your son would likely outlive a trusted friend of your generation. Another option would be to direct your Trustee to purchase an annuity for your son, that would guarantee a level payout over his lifetime. This is a good option sometimes, but if your son had an emergency need, such as medical care, an annuity wouldn’t be flexible enough to address that need.
Dear Liza: My husband and I have one adult daughter – 20 years old. We are in our 60’s and want to set up a will or a trust to ensure that 100% of our property and investments goes to our daughter, and that she inherits the assets with the least amount of taxes/probate as possible. What’s better a Will or a Trust? I don’t know what state you live in, and that makes this a hard question to answer completely. Here’s why: the value of doing a living trust depends on the cost and inconvenience of probate in your state.
Both a Will and a trust can ensure that your property passes to your daughter. Both a Will and a trust can incorporate tax planning to minimize any estate taxes that might be due at the death of the second of you (though these days, you’d have to have more than $10 million before worrying about the estate tax, so let’s assume that this is not an issue for you). Really, the difference between which kind of an estate plan to create isn’t so much a “what” question; it’s really a “how” question, as in “how much” and “how long” will it take to settle your estates.
This is because a Will requires a probate proceeding before a distribution to your daughter, while a trust will allow you to bypass probate. This means that if you do a Will, and your estate exceeds the small estates threshold in your state, your daughter won’t inherit anything until the court issues an order for distribution, which is how a probate ends. If you do a trust, and the trust is properly funded at your death, holding title to your major assets, your daughter will be able to inherit those assets as soon as they’ve been identified, taxes and creditors have been paid, and all of the beneficiaries and heirs have been notified.
In states that have adopted the Uniform Probate Code, currently that is 18 states, click here for a list of these, probate has been streamlined and is relatively inexpensive. In states that have not adopted this code, like the one that I practice in, probate takes longer and costs far more than it costs to administer most living trusts. So, in order to sort out what’s the best estate plan for you, you need to find out the cost and delay in going through probate where you live. If you live in a state where probate is relatively easy and fast, you should be fine with just a Will. If you live in a state where probate is expensive and slow, a trust will be the better choice.
Dear Liza: My uncle just died and I and a cousin are co-executors and equal co-heirs. A will is known to exist in a safe deposit box, but we have neither keys nor legal permission to open the box. There are no disputes and the estate is certainly below the tax level.The Mexican authorities seem to want a Birth Certificate in order to issue a Death Cert. As a niece, I am not entitled to get one, and there is no closer relative. What do I do? While it is true that only close family members can order vital records, you, as the executor, are also entitled to order them. In addition, an attorney that is working with you can also order such vital records. In California, where I practice, you must submit a sworn statement saying that you are the executor, and many states have a similar system. You can contact the county vital records office where your uncle was born to request his birth certificate. Here’s a link to a commercial service that makes ordering such documents easy as well. Also, I would ask the bank what the rules are in your state for opening that safe deposit box. In my state, there’s a law that allows bank officials to open the box for the sole purpose of removing a Will, since there’s a certain chicken-and-egg problem if the executor must have the Will to be authorized to open that box.
Dear Liza, My father passed away recently, and all of his and my mom’s assets are held in a living trust (except an individual checking account), of which I am now the Trustee. A few collection agencies are now contacting me about collecting on some credit card balances, which are fairly significant. From what I’ve read online, it sounds like debt collectors might not be able to lay any claims against the trust, but they can collect from the personal estate of the deceased (i.e. checking account or other assets held in the individual’s name).Is that understanding correct? In case the debtors try to collect against the trust, I want to know our rights in that situation. As Trustee, you are, actually, obligated to pay the debts of the Grantors (the people who created that trust) that you know about before you can distribute assets to the trust’s beneficiaries. That includes taxes and, in this case, credit card debt. If there are sufficient assets in the trust to pay those debts, you have to pay them. If there are insufficient assets in the trust to pay those debts, often you can, as Trustee, negotiate a lower payment with the companies — because that debt is not secured by anything (in contrast, say, to a house that secures a mortgage), the companies will often settle for less than the full amount rather than writing off the entire balance. If you don’t pay these debts and distribute the trust’s assets to the beneficiaries, these companies could, theoretically, go after the beneficiaries for payment from their inherited assets. Here’s an article that you might find helpful, too.