For our purposes, a trust is a legal device for the management of property. Through a trust, one person (the “grantor” or “trustor”) transfers the legal title of property to another person (the “trustee“), who then manages the property in a specified manner for the benefit of a third person (the “trust beneficiary“). A separation of the legal and beneficial interests in the property is a common denominator of all trusts.
In other words, the legal rights of property ownership and control rest with the trustee, who then has the responsibility of managing the property as directed by the grantor in the trust document for the ultimate benefit of the trust beneficiary.
A trust can be a living trust, which takes effect during the lifetime of the grantor, or it can be a testamentary trust, which is created by the will and does not become operative until death.
Also, a trust can be a revocable trust, meaning that the grantor retains the right to terminate the trust during lifetime and recover the trust assets, or it can be an irrevocable trust; one that the grantor cannot change or discontinue the trust or recover assets transferred from the trust.
Trusts are used:
- To provide management of assets for the benefit of minor children, assuring the grantor that children will benefit from trust assets. They will not have control of the trust assets until the child is at least age of maturity.
- To manage assets for the benefit of a disabled child, without disqualifying the child from receiving government benefits.
- To provide for the grantor’s children from a previous marriage.
- As an alternative to a will (a “revocable living trust”).
- To reduce estate taxes and, possibly, income taxes.
- To provide for a surviving spouse during his/her lifetime, with the remaining trust assets passing to the grantor’s other named beneficiaries at the surviving spouse’s death.
Trusts are complex legal documents and are not appropriate in all situations. Before establishing a trust, you should seek qualified legal advice.