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Why Are Trusts Frequently Used in Estate Planning?

By: American Heritage05.02.24
A mature couple smiles as they work with a financial advisor.

What Is a Trust?

A legal arrangement in which assets are transferred from an individual’s estate into the trust, managed by a trustee, for the benefit of beneficiaries is called a trust.

When it comes to estate planning, you may be more familiar with the concept of a will versus a trust, but there are several reasons that trusts could benefit you and your loved ones in estate planning. Establishing a trust gives you control over how your wealth will be protected and, ultimately, transferred to your beneficiaries. Many types of trusts are available. The benefits of each vary by type, and each may be treated differently from state to state. Meet with a financial advisor who has estate planning experience to determine if setting up a trust is the right plan for you and to find one that best fits your needs and goals.

Here are seven reasons trusts are frequently used in estate planning.



1. Avoidance of Probate

In some cases, if you leave assets to your loved ones and other beneficiaries in a will, they may have to go through a potentially lengthy, costly, and public validation process. During the probate process, a court validates the will, appoints an adult executor (if not otherwise indicated) who lives in the state where the will was issued, ensures all taxes and debts are paid, and authorizes the distribution of assets. Wills do not always need probate. State laws, living trusts, and certain beneficiary designations could allow assets to bypass this process.

When assets are held in a trust, they are not considered part of the probate estate, so assets can typically be transferred to beneficiaries faster and more straightforwardly. Bypassing probate also avoids associated legal fees and keeps your family and estate details out of the public eye.


2. Asset Protection

Many types of trusts provide a level of protection against creditors, lawsuits, and other legal claims that could otherwise target your assets. In an irrevocable trust, for example, assets are legally owned by the trust, not the individuals who create or benefit from it, shielding them from personal liability. Asset protection may be an especially important consideration if you are in a profession with a high risk of being sued, such as a surgeon or construction engineer.


3. Tax Planning

Certain trusts can significantly reduce potential tax burdens, which is particularly beneficial to those with a large number of assets. Irrevocable life insurance trusts, for example, can remove assets from your taxable estate, reducing your estate taxes. Other trusts, such as charitable remainder trusts (irrevocable trusts that let you donate assets to charity and draw annual income for a specific time period) may provide income tax benefits. Talk to a qualified financial professional to see which types of trusts fit your specific tax-reduction goals.


4. Control Over the Distribution of Assets

When you create a trust, you specify how, when, and to whom your assets will be distributed. You can indicate if beneficiaries—those who will benefit from the trust—must be a certain age to claim their assets or set parameters as to how the assets can be used, a smart step if you have beneficiaries who may not be financially responsible or may be minors at the time the trust goes into effect.


5. Planning for Incapacity

A trust doesn’t only serve a purpose after someone passes away. When you appoint a trustee, the trust ensures that someone is legally authorized to manage your assets and that the assets are used or distributed correctly if you become incapacitated by illness or injury. When you can’t make decisions, your family members will be able to use your assets to fund the care or other expenses you require and ensure funds and property are distributed according to your wishes.


6. Providing for Minor Children or Beneficiaries With Special Needs

If you have minor children or beneficiaries with special needs, creating a trust can offer peace of mind that they will be financially taken care of without jeopardizing their eligibility for government benefits, such as in the case of a special needs trust. With certain types of trusts, you can manage and safeguard your assets and ensure they’re distributed appropriately to meet the needs of these important beneficiaries.


7. Preservation of Privacy

If you write a will, it will become public during the probate process. Many types of trusts offer more privacy for your family and your financial matters. Keeping details about your assets, debts, and who will inherit what out of the public eye can reduce family conflict and stress as well as protect them from scammers trying to look for potential victims in public records.


Could a Trust Elevate Your Estate Plan?

Trusts are valuable tools in estate planning, and this article gives a good overview of why you might consider one for the protection, management, and distribution of your assets. If you are ready to consider creating a trust, talk to a trusted financial advisor with estate planning experience who can advise you on which type of trust would fit your estate planning needs and goals and explain how each type of trust is handled in your state. Please do your research, as trusts aren’t the best option for everyone because of initial expenses, the need for continual record-keeping, and potential tax burdens.



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