Trusts: A Lasting Legacy

Trusts are an often underutilized, but extraordinarily efficient tool for managing your estate during your lifetime, and after your death. A trust is a legal entity that is created and governed by an instrument, which is essentially an operating agreement for the document to follow. They can own property, real or personal, and are managed by a person called a trustee. The instrument outlines rules for distribution, and has specifically identified beneficiaries. An irrevocable trust is where the grantor transfers assets with no power to take them back once conveyed. A revocable version, on the contrary, allows a grantor full control to relinquish the document during their lifetime. Beneficiaries of a trust can be the person who started the document, called the grantor, as well as relatives, friends, businesses, and charitable organizations. 

Trusts can be used for a multitude of reasons and are usually created to protect assets from loss, provide for dependents, and to create or refine strategies for maximizing generational wealth. Assets can vary, and may include real property, liquid assets, jewelry, art or other valuable items, life insurance, or lawsuit proceeds. A trust must actually own property to be validly created, and, subject to applicable state laws, a well-drafted version can operate for generations. To shield your assets from loss, medicare planning trusts, special needs trusts, and even mental health or substance abuse trusts can protect assets and maintain a beneficiary’s government entitlements in the event of a catastrophic injury or long-term illness. Spendthrift provisions can protect property from loss due to a beneficiary’s bankruptcy, insolvency, or other financial mismanagement.

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In the context of gifting, a trust can be used to provide a structured distribution to your dependents and can operate in your absence without requiring constant oversight. Much of the property that is transferred passes through a decedent’s estate outside of probate and with relative ease and minimal taxation, as the instrument governs how the trust property should be maintained or distributed.

When considering creating a trust, you should identify the goals and classes of people it is designed to benefit. The goals of your trust, whether they include financing your grandchildren’s college tuition, or protecting your assets from being entirely depleted as a result of a nursing home stay, will determine the best type for your situation. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable and the specific parameters contained within the instrument should be tailored to meet your needs. Working with an estate planning attorney and a financial advisor, you can structure a trust that will provide for the protection of your beneficiaries, minimize tax implications, and outline clear directions for the distributions of principal and income.