Would a trust be beneficial for my estate?

Trusts may offer significant benefits over wills, depending on your goals.

You may assume that the best way to efficiently transfer your assets to your heirs is by using a will. Although wills are an important tool, they are not the only one. In many cases, it would be beneficial for you to also have a trust in your estate plan.

Trusts work similarly to wills in that they ultimately transfer ownership of assets you indicate to persons (or institutions) that you designate. However, when you create a trust, you first transfer your assets to a trustee-a person under a duty to manage your assets. The trustee has a fiduciary duty towards your heirs and can be held legally accountable if he or she mismanages the assets in the trust. After you die, the trustee is under a duty to distribute the trust's assets in the manner that you specify in the trust document.

There are several types of trusts to suit different types of needs. A popular type of trust is a living trust. This type of trust is created during your lifetime and gives you the ability to choose the trustee or modify the terms of the trust at any time before your death. Additionally, there are testamentary trusts (which are created in your will and become effective after your death), charitable trusts and special needs trusts, any of which may or may not be appropriate for your situation.

Regardless of the type of trust that is right for you, they each offer their own unique advantages. However, in general, most trusts offer one or more the following benefits over wills:

Probate avoidance

Unlike a will, trusts do not first have to clear probate before the assets within the trust may be distributed to your beneficiaries. Since the process can be time-consuming and expensive for your estate, using a trust instead of a will can allow you to pass on more of your assets to your beneficiaries.

Privacy

Since wills must go through probate, a copy of the will is filed with the probate court and can be accessed by anyone. If you would rather keep the details of your final wishes a secret, a trust allows you to do this. Since trusts need not be filed with the court, they can be kept away from public eyes after your death.

More control of distributions

Trusts are especially beneficial, if you would like more control over the distribution of your assets. With a trust, you can specify:

• How your assets may be used (e.g. for educational expenses only)

• When your heirs receive their inheritance

• How your assets are to be distributed (e.g. in a lump sum or in installments)

A will, on the other hand, distributes your assets to your beneficiaries immediately and in one lump sum. Since a trust gives you more control over distribution, they are especially helpful for those with minor beneficiaries.

Avoiding taxes

If your estate is substantial enough to be subject to estate taxes, trusts can help minimize your tax burden. Since the creation of the trust requires that your assets be titled in the name of the trust, these assets are not under your name when you die. As a result, trust assets are not subject to estate taxes. Since estate taxes can be significant, using a trust allows you to preserve more of your assets than a will would.

Speak to an attorney

Although trusts sound like an attractive option, they are not the best solution for everyone. When making out your estate plan, it is advisable to only do so with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney can recommend the best way to proceed, given your situation and long-term goals.