I was asked recently why one would establish a trust when estate planning. If you have a “simple situation”, a trust isn’t necessary. A simple situation would be if you and your spouse have only been married once, are still married, are US citizens, and don’t have children. If you want and expect your assets to go to your surviving spouse, you probably don’t need a trust. You may not even need a will. Many states have “default” actions when someone passes away that usually include assets being transferred to a surviving spouse.
If your estate is large or you have plans other than leaving your assets to your spouse, you may want to invest in a trust. A trust can help minimize estate taxes and control how your assets are distributed. If you have kids and do or don’t want to leave assets to them, a will may be sufficient, but the state and federal government can overrule your will. Also, a trust can give more options in transferring assets to a charity. If it’s important to you that your assets be distributed in a certain way, you will want to consider a trust.
Executing a will incurs probate tax which can be 2% to 7% of your assets. Since probate involves lawyers, you may have additional legal costs if there are disagreements on how assets should be distributed. The cost of a trust is approximately $2,000 and may need to be updated at various points of your life at additional expense. With a will or trust, you won’t have Federal estate tax if your assets total less than $5,430,000 in 2015 (this amount changes every year). If your assets are over this amount, you may be able to avoid some or all Federal estate taxes. You may have state taxes that vary from state to state.
If you have remarried, you also will want to consider a trust. In some states “surviving spouses”, even in a second marriage, have a right to claim up to half the estate. If there are children from more than one marriage, a trust is the best way to ensure assets are distributed the way you want.
To help minimize estate taxes, trusts can be generated at death. From a living trust that is active during your life, people often generate a marital trust at death to provide funds to a surviving spouse for the spouse’s life, with remaining assets going to the children upon the spouse’s death. This is usually paired with a family trust which has assets go directly to the children at death but retaining income for the remainder of the surviving spouse’s life. In some cases, there are more than two trusts generated to take care of various family members.
Most parents with special needs family members understand that they require special estate planning. A special needs trust can help them maximize the benefit of their resources after they pass. A trust can also help articulate what will happen to special needs family members and minor children. You can name a person to manage your financial assets and a different person to take care of your family members’ personal health and wellbeing.
If your situation is more complex than the “simple situation”, it’s important to contact an Estate Planning Attorney that understands the current laws. A good lawyer will also write provisions into a trust to automatically change as laws change. If you have a “simple situation” you will still want to research how your state handles assets on a person’s death. You may be surprised at what you learn.
If you’re comfortable with your assets going to your spouse and/or children in whatever way the state indicates, you don’t need a trust. If you care about what happens to your assets after death, a trust is sometimes the best way to go. A will can be contested which delays distribution, can be expensive, and may end in assets being distributed inappropriately. If you document your wishes in a trust, the courts make sure the instructions are executed as written.
All information provided is general in nature and not meant to be advice for you in particular. If you’d like to know more about how this topic relates to your situation, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.