You don’t have to be a CEO or multimillionaire to benefit from a trust. In fact, many people gain advantages from establishing one – so it may be useful to learn something about this common estate-planning tool.
Why would you want a trust? For one thing, if you have highly specific wishes on how and when you want your estate to be distributed among your heirs, then a trust could be appropriate. Also, you might be interested in setting up a trust if you’d like to avoid the sometimes time-consuming, usually expensive and always public process of probate. Some types of trusts may also help protect your estate from lawsuits and creditors.
Currently, only a small percentage of Americans will be subject to estate taxes, but estate tax laws are often in flux, so things may be different in the future – and a properly designed trust could help minimize these taxes.
If you decide that a trust might be right for you, you should work with an experienced estate-planning attorney. Trusts can be highly effective estate-planning vehicles, but they can also be complex and varied – so you’ll want to make sure you understand what’s involved.
One important decision will be to choose a trustee. The trustee is legally bound to manage the trust’s assets in the best interests of your beneficiaries, so your choice of trustee is extremely important. Your first impulse might be to select a family member, but before doing so, consider asking these questions:
Does he or she have the experience and knowledge to manage your financial affairs competently?
When called upon to make a decision that may affect other family members, will your prospective trustee act in a fair and unbiased manner?
Will naming a family member as trustee create a strain within the family?
Does your prospective trustee have enough time to manage your trust? Does he or she even want this responsibility?
Do you have other family members who are willing to serve as trustee if your chosen trustee cannot do so?
This last question leads to another key aspect of establishing a trust – specifically, you can name a “co-trustee” to help manage the trust, and also a “successor trustee” who can take over if the person named initially fails or refuses to act in the capacity of trustee. Again, you will want to put considerable thought into whom you ask to take these roles.
And you don’t have to stick with individuals, either — you can decide to ask a financial institution to serve as trustee. By hiring such an institution, you will gain its objectivity and expertise, but you still need to ask many questions about costs, services provided, and so on.
Finally, as you develop your plans for a trust, consider communicating your wishes and ideas to your family and anyone else who may be beneficiaries of your estate. When family members don’t know what to expect, disappointment and frustration can follow. If you know your loved ones are on board with your estate plans, you may feel even more comfortable in putting these plans in place.