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What is a LIVING REVOCABLE TRUST

What is a Revocable Trust

A revocable trust is a document (the “trust agreement”) created by you to manage your assets during your lifetime and distribute the remaining assets after your death. The person who creates a trust is called the “grantor” or “settlor.” The person responsible for the management of the trust assets is the “trustee.” You can serve as trustee, or you may appoint another person, bank or trust company to serve as your trustee. The trust is “revocable” since you may modify or terminate the trust during your lifetime, as long as you are not incapacitated.

During your lifetime the trustee invests and manages the trust property. Most trust agreements allow the grantor to withdraw money or assets from the trust at any time, and in any amount. If you become incapacitated, the trustee is authorized to continue to manage your trust assets, pay your bills, and make investment decisions. This may avoid the need for a court-appointed guardian of your property. This is one of the advantages of a revocable trust.

Upon your death, the trustee (or your successor if you were the initial trustee) is responsible for paying all claims and taxes, and then distributing the assets to your beneficiaries as described in the trust agreement. The trustee's responsibilities at your death are discussed below.

Your assets, such as bank accounts, real estate and investments, must be formally transferred to the trust before your death to get the maximum benefit from the trust. This process is called “funding” the trust and requires changing the ownership of the assets to the trust. Assets that are not properly transferred to the trust may be subject to probate. However, certain assets should not be transferred to a trust because income tax problems may result. You should consult with your attorney, tax advisor and investment advisor to determine if your assets are appropriate for trust ownership.

How does a revocable trust avoid probate

A revocable trust avoids probate by effecting the transfer of assets during your lifetime to the trustee. This avoids the need to use the probate process to make the transfer after your death. The trustee has immediate authority to manage the trust assets at your death; appointment by the court is not necessary.

The “funding” of a revocable trust is critical to successfully avoid probate. Those persons who do not fully fund their trusts often need both a probate administration for the non-trust assets as well as a trust administration to completely distribute the assets. Because the revocable trust may not completely avoid probate, a simple “pour over” will is needed to transfer any probate assets to the trust after death.

How do I know if my assets are properly titled to my trust

The account statement, stock certificate, title or deed will make some reference to the trust or to you as trustee. You might also elect to fund your trust by naming the trust as a beneficiary of life insurance or other similar arrangements. Your attorney and financial advisor may assist you with the transfer of assets to your trust. If your trust will own real estate, then it is important to have the deed prepared by an attorney. The attorney will consider the impact of existing mortgages, title issues and homestead restrictions when the deed is prepared.

Do I benefit by avoiding probate

Avoiding probate may lower the cost of administering your estate and time delays associated with the probate process. However, many of the costs and time delays associated with probate, such as filing a federal estate tax return, will also be necessary with a revocable trust. The administration of a revocable trust after death is similar to a probate administration. The trustee must collect and value the trust assets, determine creditors and beneficiaries, pay taxes and expenses, and ultimately distribute the trust estate. A trustee is entitled to a fee for administration of the trust, as is the personal representative of an estate. To the extent professional services of attorneys, accountants and estate liquidators are used to complete the process, the savings may be marginal.

On the other hand, avoiding probate in multiple states is a definite benefit. Because of the nature of real estate, probate is usually required in every state in which you own real estate. This can usually be avoided by transferring ownership of the real estate to your trust during your lifetime.

Does the trust provide protection from creditor claims

In Florida, the trust assets are not protected from the claims of your creditors. During your lifetime the assets in a revocable trust are treated as owned by you, and subject to the claims of your creditor as if you owned them in your personal name. If the trust assets remain in trust after your death, the interests of the beneficiaries may be protected from their creditors by a “spendthrift” provision in the trust agreement. Florida law provides special protection for many types of assets, including assets owned by a husband and wife as “tenants by the entirety.” Consideration should be given to these assets when you decide how to fund your revocable trust. Your attorney can advise you on the types of assets that offer creditor protection and the effect of funding your trust with them.

Does the trust provide protection from the elective share

Florida law provides that a surviving spouse is entitled to a minimum portion of the decedent's estate. This elective share is equal to 30% of the estate, including certain assets passing outside of probate. Generally, assets held in a revocable trust will be subject to the elective share. There are some exceptions to the elective share, and the right to receive an elective share can be waived by the spouse. You should consult with your attorney regarding the application of the elective share to your particular situation.

What are the trustees responsibilities

Serving as trustee is no simple task. While very important, the prudent investment of trust assets is not a trustee's only responsibility. Your trustee's exact powers and duties will depend on the instructions in your trust agreement. But, in general, your trustee will:

  • Hold trust property
  • Invest the trust assets
  • Distribute trust income and/or principal to the beneficiaries, as directed in the trust agreement
  • Make tax decisions concerning the trust
  • Keep records of all trust transactions
  • Issue statements of account and tax reports to the trust beneficiaries
  • Answer any questions you and the beneficiaries may have concerning the trust

Your trustee may have broad powers or very limited powers. In either case, your trustee is a fiduciary and must follow a strict standard of care when performing trust functions.

Who may act as a trustee or successor trustee

The choice of a trustee is extremely important and may have tax consequences. You can name almost anyone as your trustee. Unlike the appointment of a personal representative of a probate estate, a trustee does not have to live in Florida or be related to you. You can name yourself or any other individual (subject to tax considerations), or a corporate trustee, such as a bank or trust company. The individual trustee can be a family member, friend or professional advisor. Many individuals appoint family members or friends as successor trustee, to assume responsibility for the trust management and distribution after their death. When a family member or friend is chosen, consideration must be given to the person's qualifications, the potential for friction with other beneficiaries, and the potential burden you are placing on that individual. The trust agreement should allow these individuals to hire qualified professionals to assist them in their duties, such as attorneys, accountants and financial advisors.

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John P. Rutkowski, Attorney at Law, is focused on all aspects of Wills, Trust, Probate, Foreclosure, Bankruptcy, Divorce & criminal law. Contact me today to schedule an initial consultation.

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