When to Consider a Living Trust

When to Consider a Living Trust

Living trusts are flexible estate planning structures that place you in full control of your assets during your lifetime, and can help to simplify the settlement of your estate after you are gone.

The philosophy behind the common phrase carpe diem, or seize the day, can be applied when an individual chooses to establish a revocable living trust: it ensures that your assets are managed according to your wishes today while you are alive as well, and in the future, when you are gone.

Living trusts are flexible estate planning structures that can be tailored to satisfy a range of planning needs and wishes. Because you serve as the trustee and maintain full control over the assets placed in trust during your lifetime, a living trust offers what many consider to be the most valuable benefit of all: peace of mind.

Following are some of the most compelling reasons to create a living trust.

Reason #1—You can avoid probate. A living trust is often used as a “substitute will” to transfer assets to heirs and avoid probate. Individuals typically place all assets in a trust and name themselves as income beneficiaries during their lifetime. Upon death, remaining trust assets are passed on to designated heirs without the need or cost of passing through probate court.

Probate costs vary widely from state to state, but on average, attorney, court and other fees can eat up about 5% of your estate. If the estate is complicated, the fees can be even larger.1 Aside from the cost, the probate process can take time: up to a year or more in many states. 1

Callout: Tax Tip—Income from property held in the living trust is reported on your personal income tax return. No additional forms or filings are necessary as long as you are both the “grantor”(i.e., the individual who set up the trust) and the trustee.2

Reason #2—You become incapacitated. While other planning mechanisms, such as a durable power of attorney, can achieve similar objectives, a living trust is a more flexible, user-friendly alternative. In the event that you become incapable of managing your financial affairs due to physical or mental illness, assets in a living trust may be managed by the person you named to serve as trustee at your death (or, if you made a shared trust, the other trustee, typically a spouse) in keeping with your wishes.

Keep in mind that with a living trust, nothing is “set in stone.” Because it is a revocable instrument, you can amend or revoke a living trust at any time. If the trust is shared with a spouse or partner, both of you must agree on changes, but either of you may revoke the trust at any time.

Reason #3—You lack the ability or desire to manage your own finances. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the thought of managing the sizeable inheritance you just received. Maybe you are a widow who always relied on your spouse to handle the finances. Or maybe you are a busy entrepreneur who would rather entrust the management of your wealth to a competent professional. Whatever the reason, you can name a trustee (e.g., a bank or other financial institution, a financial advisor or other trusted individual) to manage the trust’s assets for you. If a professional trustee is named, that entity is bound by law to take great care in managing and protecting your assets.

While a living trust can greatly simplify estate planning, it would be misleading to present it as a cure-all solution. Contact me to learn more about the benefits and limitations of living trusts and other potential tools to include in your overall estate plan.


1Sources: The Internal Revenue Service, Reg.1.671-4; Fairmark.com.

2Source: Nolo’s Guide to Living Trusts, Nolo.com, 2009.

Courtesy of: Carol Mani Johnston, Senior Vice President – Wealth Management

Branch Name: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney [San Antonio, Texas -Downtown

Phone Number: 210.271.6111

Web Address: www.fasmithbarney.com/carolmanijohnston

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If you’d like to learn more, please contact Carol Mani Johnston, 210.271.6111

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