Synopsis: A trust is a legal entity that is central to a three-part agreement in which an individual — the trust’s "grantor" — transfers the legal title to an asset to that trust for the purpose of benefiting one or more beneficiaries. The trust is managed by one or more trustees. Trusts may be revocable or irrevocable and are sometimes included as part of a will.
The trust’s grantor names a trustee to handle investments and manage trust assets. The grantor can work with the trustee on major decisions, or the trustee can be assigned full authority to act on the grantor’s behalf. Trustees have a responsibility -- known as "fiduciary responsibility" -- to act in the grantor’s best interest. In some cases, the grantor may serve as trustee.
Although trusts can be used in many ways for estate and financial planning, they are most commonly used to control assets and provide financial security for both the grantor and the beneficiaries; provide for beneficiaries who are minors or require expert assistance managing money; avoid estate or income taxes; provide expert management of estates; avoid probate expenses; maintain privacy; and protect real estate holdings or a business.
Your qualified legal professional can help you evaluate if a trust may be appropriate for your situation.
Contrary to what many people think, trusts are not reserved only for the wealthy. The truth is, people from all walks of life may benefit from a trust.
What Is a Trust?
Generally speaking, a trust is a legal entity that allows someone to transfer the legal title of an asset to one person while assigning control of the asset to another. The person who creates the trust, the original owner of the asset, is known as the grantor. The person who manages the trust is known as the trustee. And the person who receives the benefits is known as the beneficiary.
The trust's grantor names a trustee to handle investments, manage trust assets, and make decisions regarding distributions. The grantor can work with the trustee on major decisions in a revocable trust, or the trustee can be assigned full authority to act on the grantor's behalf.
A trustee may be an individual such as an attorney or accountant, or it may be an entity that offers experience in such areas as taxation, estate tax law, and money management. Trustees have a responsibility -- known as "fiduciary responsibility" -- to act in the beneficiaries' best interests.
Trusts are drafted as either revocable or irrevocable and may take effect during your lifetime or after death.
Revocable trusts can be changed or revoked at any time. For this reason, the IRS considers any trust assets to still be included in the grantor's taxable estate. This means that the grantor must pay income taxes on revenue generated by the trust and possibly estate taxes on those assets remaining after his or her death.
Irrevocable trusts cannot be changed once they are executed. The assets placed into a properly drafted irrevocable trust are permanently removed from a grantor's estate and transferred to the trust. Income and capital gains taxes on assets in the trust are paid by the trust to the extent they are not passed on to beneficiaries. Upon a grantor's death, the assets in the trust may not be considered part of the estate and therefore may not be subject to estate taxes.
Most revocable trusts become irrevocable at the death or disability of the grantor.
Benefits of a Trust
Although trusts can be used in many ways, they are most commonly used to:
Control assets and provide security for the beneficiaries (of whom can be the grantor in a revocable trust).
Provide for beneficiaries who are minors or require expert assistance managing money.
Minimize the effects of estate or income taxes.
Provide expert management of estates.
Minimize probate expenses.
Maintain privacy.Protect real estate holdings or a business.
Generally speaking, most people use trusts to help maintain control of assets while they're alive and medically competent, as well as indirectly maintain control of the disposition of assets if they're medically unable to do so or in the event of death.
Flexibility to Meet Your Needs
Different kinds of trusts are designed to meet different needs and objectives. The examples that follow are some of the types that may be available to you.
A living trust takes effect during your lifetime and allows you, as grantor, to be both the trustee and the beneficiary. Upon your death, a designated successor trustee manages and/or distributes the remaining assets according to the terms set in the trust, avoiding the probate process. In addition, should you become incapacitated during the term of the trust, the successor or co-trustee can take over its management.
An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is often used as an estate tax funding mechanism. Under this trust, you make gifts to an irrevocable trust, which in turn uses those gifts to purchase a life insurance policy on you. Upon your death, the policy's death benefit proceeds are payable to the trust, which in turn provides tax-free cash to help beneficiaries meet estate tax obligations.
A qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) allows you to remove your residence from your estate and reduce gift taxes while you get to use the home for a predetermined number of years, after which time ownership is transferred to the trust or beneficiaries. The potential drawback is that if you die before the term of the trust ends, the home is considered part of your estate.
A generation-skipping trust can help you leave bequests to your grandchildren and avoid or reduce your generation-skipping transfer tax exposure, which can be up to 40% on the federal level in 2018.
A charitable lead trust (CLT) lets you pay a charity income from the trust for a designated amount of time, after which the principal goes to the beneficiaries, who receive the property free of estate taxes. However, keep in mind that you'll need to pay gift taxes on a portion of the value of the assets you transfer to the trust.