Stephen Stewart of Stephen P. Stewart Law in Raleigh, NC has been working with individuals and families to set up living trusts for over twenty-five years. He explains the basics of what a living trust is, the process of setting one up, and why it is important.
Understanding the Basics of a Living Trust
A living trust, also referred to as an “inter vivos trust”, is a legal document that covers how an individual’s assets should be handled prior to and after their death. The individual who makes the trust is known as the settlor or grantor, and the individual who manages the assets in the trust is called the trustee. A living trust is designed to provide for beneficiaries including a spouse, children or other named parties.
Setting Up a Living Trust
It is a two-step process to establish a living trust. Firstly, the trust agreement (deed of trust) needs to be created. This can be done yourself or, for peace of mind, a qualified living trust attorney can assist with the process. A specialized attorney is important if there are substantial assets, a business or a complicated estate that needs to be included in the living trust.
Funding a Living Trust
Once the trust has been created, the second step is to fund it. This requires the transfer of any assets that are to be included in the trust into the control of the trustee. Examples of assets that can be transferred include bank accounts, boats, real estate, stocks, bonds, antiques, and art and coin collections. If real estate is to be transferred, the property will usually need to be retitled, which is done by setting up a new deed for the property in the name of the trustee. For intangibles such as bank accounts and stocks, depending on the policies of the specific financial institution, account ownership will need to be transferred, or a new account opened in the name of the trustee.
Why a Living Trust is Important
For individuals with only a few assets, it may be that a will is sufficient to handle estate planning needs. A living will is a completely separate legal document designed to supplement, rather than replace a will. In certain circumstances, a living trust will provide additional benefits.
To Avoid Probate
Probate is the process by which assets are distributed based on the instructions left in a will and can take years to complete if the estate is extensive or if the will is contested. It can also be expensive as probate fees, attorney fees, and court costs mount up. A living trust means that probate for the assets held by the trust can be avoided which reduces expenses.
For Individuals with Young Children
With a living trust, a legal guardian and a conservator can be named. The conservator is not monitored by the court and allows for greater flexibility in deciding the age and conditions under which children have access to the trust.
If an Individual Becomes Incapacitated
In the instance where an individual is hurt in an accident or suffers a stroke that impairs mental ability, the trustee can continue to act on the individual’s behalf.
Working with a Living Trust Lawyer
When deciding on a living trust lawyer, find an attorney that specializes in this field. A living trust attorney will help set up the trust to maximize tax savings and limit costs as far as possible.
Attorney Stephen Stewart of Stephen P. Stewart Law in Raleigh, NC has been working in the area of living trusts for many years. With a B.S. in Accounting (cum laude) and a law degree followed up with a specialization in Taxation Law, he has both the experience and the education to ensure that your trust is tailored to your needs.