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Dec. 31, 2020, 1:38 p.m. EST

3 reasons a trust may make sense for your family even though your name isn’t Trump, Gates or Rockefeller

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By CD Moriarty

Trusts can solve a host of legal and financial problems no matter how much (or little) money you have.

Done right by a lawyer, your heirs can avoid the expense and time of probating your will and may save on estate taxes while easing administration of your affairs while alive and after you have gone. 

These are solid reasons to consider a trust on top of a will in your estate plans. Yet people fear trusts because of the cost to establish them or the image of creating a “trust fund baby.”

There are two types of trusts – and three main reasons to consider one.

A revocable trust is flexible; it can be changed at any time by the grantor – you. These are the most common because it is as simple as if you owned the assets in your name.

Once a trust is established, you retitle homes, bank and investment accounts to the name of the trust, an essential step to creating the trust that sometimes falls through the cracks. After that, the only change is that when you sign official documents, you will sign as the trustee rather than yourself. Otherwise you can continue to sell or handle property in much the same way as before.

The trust also can be designed for special situations: a special needs trust, for example, to help a disabled person for life, or a charitable trust to leave money to a favorite charity while giving income to a family member during their lifetime or a real estate trust for your properties.

Other reasons to consider a trust include avoiding probate (which creates a public accounting of all your assets), Medicaid planning or timing the inheritance to your heirs.

An irrevocable trust is permanent and cannot be changed. A common reason for choosing this option is to save on estate taxes or to set up funds for grandchildren. These are less common and typically what most people think of when they hear the words trust.

A trust is not something everyone needs. If your estate is small and most of your assets are in retirement plans with beneficiaries in place, you don’t need one. However if you have relationships, properties or goals that are less than simple or traditional, consider discussing your trust options with a lawyer. 

Here’s why a trust might be for you

The federal tax exemption is $11.18 million in 2020 and $11.58 million for 2021, but state estate tax exemptions can be far less generous . Massachusetts currently exempts $1 million of assets from estate taxes, and New York excludes almost $6 million. Florida has no estate tax.

If you have a property in a second state, your heirs may face a second round of probate and estate taxes. With a trust, all property falls under the trust, leaving less management and paperwork for your heirs and reducing costs of settling your estate.

Years ago, a client left his wife properties in two states. Though he had a will, he had not taken the time to establish a real estate or revocable trust because of the expense. Instead, she had to pay lawyers in two states (plus her accountant) to settle the estate and transfer the deeds into her name. Then she had to pay state estate taxes on the out-of-state property — an expense that could have been avoided with a real estate trust. 

As soon as she settled his estate, she set up her own trust to avoid the expense, delay and added hassle for her children upon her death. Experience was a great teacher, and this time it was the old England adage of “penny wise and pound-foolish.”

Today’s families are complex and are formed in a myriad of ways. Beyond the traditional nuclear family, there are second and third marriages, children in and out of wedlock, and long-term relationships that mirror marriages. By taking each personal situation into account, a trust can be established to match the individual’s needs. 

A trust can be set up so that after your death, young children can be receiving income until whatever age you set and then have access to the principal of the inheritance. Otherwise, with a will they receive the full inheritance at the age of majority set by a state for inheritances. ( Each state sets its own rules , but it’s between 18 and 21.) 

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