Living Trusts - Dying Isn't What It Used To Be


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Death and taxes may seem inevitable and cause our palms to turn sweaty. However, estate planning trusts, especially the class of revocable living trust, give families a reliable and simplified technique to manage asset transfers between generations.

Who's Against Probate? You're thinking about putting together a living trust. But you ask, why the fuss over probate? If neither time nor money nor head-splitting anxiety for your heirs means anything to you, then forget about a living revocable trust. Leaving estate matters to the courts, allowing asset transfer to become embedded in expensive, time consuming and exasperating court-ordered procedures defines “probate" in its most pedestrian and unembellished form. Here's why your living trust does the work better.

* How Living Trusts Reduce The “Ugly" Part Of Probate. In the deceased's estate, the probate court is obligated by law to capture, inventory, appraise and then distribute to qualified heirs (verified through a valid will) the proceeds of an estate. . . after taxes and debts have been paid. How much time is required? It depends, but consider 1 to 3 years as “realistic". Costs? Forgetting the time-value of money not distributed, heirs may still discover that the probate process has “whacked" from 15% to 30% of the estate's value prior to distribution.

Living Trust Forms. The basic reason for establishing a living trust is to “wrap" all estate assets within a simple, and entirely legal structure in order to simplify the transfer of financial benefit to rightful heirs. Estate assets are not subject to probate plus. . . your assets remain 100% private and are not available for the public record (for snoops or creditors). Living trust forms are legal structures, recognized in all 50 US States. Critically, the assets within a living trust must be certified within each State in order to validate the legal form any fiduciary authority contemplated by the trust deed.

1st Step - A “Grantor" Setting Up Living Trust. The trust “grantor" establishes the living trust, as a legal entity. The grantor-creator can also authorize himself or herself to be the initial trustee, with full authority to deliver into the living trust any and all assets including financial assets like cash, equity stock certificates, bonds, real estate title, jewelry, autos, art collections or any other verifiable asset.

2nd Step - Trustee Delivers Estate Assets Into The Living Trust. Living trusts provide significant operational flexibility to the Trustee. In their form and nature a revocable living trust permits the Trustee to deliver or remove assets legally, along with make any amendments to the trust indenture or deed until death occurs.

3rd Step - When Death Occurs. Important actions are triggered by the death of the underlying person whose estate has been legally transferred to the living trust. At the time of death, the living trust automatically transfers executive or fiduciary responsibility to the successor trustee. Meanwhile, the trust indenture or deed immediately become set, or in technical parlance “irrevocable".

What's The “Bottom Line" With State Or Federal Taxes? For estates with a net present value underneath current federal estate tax “minimums", death becomes a non-taxable event. However, both State and Federal estate tax laws continue to morph as politicians play the one-class-against-the-other game of rule-changing. Message? Living trust initial trustees and successor trustees need State-specific technical advice on current tax law standards before starting the distribution process. . . to be safe and smart and to avoid penalties and fines.

What About Kids . . . Minors . . . . Or Incompetents? A smart strategy, when minors are the named beneficiaries, is for the living trust to direct assets into a separate trustee-fiduciary managed “spendthrift trust" which relies on an expert trusted person to conserve the inherited assets until the minors are legally empowered adults after age eighteen. The spendthrift trust is especially useful with minors or even adults in the event that a family member has had an accident, suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, and is generally unable to make rational decisions. The trustee manages the affairs, and provides enough income to meet reasonable needs of the heir.

Bottom Line. Death and taxes are serious business. Learn how living trusts and spendthrift trusts can combine to simply estate planning and asset transfers so that legal heirs get their distribution quickly, with privacy, and without paying high cost probate fees.

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Author Robin Derry is publisher for , a specialty knowledge site that gives insights and solutions on a wide range of product, technology and lifestyle interests for web-enabled people.


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