Revocable assets simplify asset management during life and facilitate private asset transfers at death. Therefore, you might think your estate planning is done when you sign the revocable trust agreement. Nevertheless, it’s not done until you fund the trust, advises a recent article, “’It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ – Use of a Funded Revocable Trust in Estate Planning” from The National Law Review.
A trust is a legal agreement allowing one person—the trustee—to hold and manage property to benefit one or more beneficiaries. The person who creates the trust—the grantor—can create a trust during their lifetime and modify or terminate the agreement at any time. The grantor is the initial trustee and the initial beneficiary. These dual roles allow the grantor to control the trust assets during their lifetime.
Upon death, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable. The trust agreement directs the distribution of assets and appoints the trustee to manage and distribute assets. Unlike a will, the revocable trust works during your lifetime to hold assets.
Funding the trust is critical for it to perform. Assets must be transferred, with an asset-by-asset review conducted to determine which assets should go into the trust. The assets should then be transferred—usually by title or deed changes—which your estate planning attorney can help with.
A funded revocable trust avoids having the assets go through probate. State statutes and regulations require several steps to be completed, adding time, effort and cost to estate administration. Suppose that the revocable trust at death owns the assets. In that case, the trust owns the legal title to the assets, and assets can be distributed to beneficiaries without court intervention.
Avoiding probate also reduces expenses. The expense of probate administration arises from two sources: probate fees and attorney fees. These vary by state and jurisdiction. However, they can add up quickly. A funded revocable trust minimizes both types of fees.
Unlike the will, which becomes a public document once it goes through probate, revocable trust assets and beneficiaries remain confidential, known only to the trustee and beneficiaries. Anyone who wants to can request and review your will and obtain information about assets and beneficiaries. However, the trust is a private document, protecting your loved ones from scammers, overly aggressive salespeople, and nosy relatives.
Privacy can be essential for business owners. For example, suppose you die owning a business interest as an individual. In that case, the description and value of business interests must be reported on the public record during the probate process and is available to potential purchasers to use as leverage against your estate. Transferring business interests to a revocable trust during your lifetime can keep that information private.
Trusts are also used for asset protection for assets with beneficiary designations, including life insurance, IRAs and retirement plans. For instance, if a life insurance policy is paid to your estate, creditors of your estate may have access to the proceeds. If it is paid to the trust, it is protected from creditors.
Reference: The National Law Review (March 3, 2023) “’It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ – Use of a Funded Revocable Trust in Estate Planning”