Q: If I Have A Trust, Why Do I Also Need A Will?

A: The type of will that is used with a living trust is called a "pourover will," because its job is to pour (transfer) assets into the trust if the assets were not transferred to the trust previously. This can occur if the trustees fail to make the transfers of assets to the trust, or if mistakes are made in titling the assets. A pourover will doesn't have the usual provisions that are found in a standard will and the only beneficiary is the living trust.

Q: What Are Probate Assets?

A: Any asset that is in the decedent's name, and not in joint tenancy or in a trust. Assets that are not subject to probate include IRAs, 401Ks, and life insurance, assuming that a beneficiary has been named to receive the assets involved. Even these assets might be subject to probate if the beneficiary listed is the "estate" of the decedent or if no beneficiary is listed. Joint tenancy assets become the property of the surviving joint tenant, regardless of the provisions of the decedent's will or trust.

Q: Do Trust Documents Become Public Information When Someone Dies?

A: That could depend on state and local laws. California law, for example, requires that notice be given to trust beneficiaries and the decedent's heirs if all or part of the trust becomes irrevocable after the death. The beneficiaries and heirs are then given an opportunity to request a copy of the trust. The trust also might become public information is there is a court challenge to the trust, in which case a copy of the trust will be filed with the court

Q: Who Should Be Chosen As The Successor Trustee?

A: Many clients choose their children, either as co-trustees, or in a particular order of succession. This can be a good choice, particularly if the proposed trustee has some experience with accounting or taxes. If there are no children, or if the clients would rather not use their children as trustees, other choices are other relatives, friends, or trust companies and banks. Regardless of who is chosen, that person must be responsible and able to devote the time required to the trust administration and management. The proposed trustee does not need to have an extensive knowledge of trusts, law, or accounting, but should be willing to seek professional help to carry out the administration of the trust.

Q: Do I Need A Federal Tax Number For The Trust?

A: No. A federal tax number is not needed for a trust for a married couple until one of the trustors dies, or both trustors resign as trustees or become incompetent. For a trust for a single person, a federal tax number will be required after the trustor dies. Until death or resignation, the trustors' Social Security numbers will be used as the trust tax number.

Q: What Is A Special Needs Trust?

A: The beneficiary of a special needs trust is usually receiving benefits from a government program, such as SDI. Those benefits will stop if the beneficiary receives an inheritance because these programs have strict limits regarding the amount of income and assets that a beneficiary can receive. A special needs trust provides a source of money that is held by the living trust and paid in small amounts either to the beneficiary, or for his or her benefit. The trustee will not pay any amount to the beneficiary that would increase his or her income or assets beyond the limits set by the government program and cause the government benefits to stop. After the death of the beneficiary, the balance of the trust fund will be distributed to other trust beneficiaries.

Q: What Is A Qualified Domestic Trust?

A: If the surviving spouse is not a U.S. citizen, no marital deduction is allowed unless the assets to be transferred to the surviving spouse are instead transferred to a qualifed domestic trust, also called a QDT. The marital deduction allows married couples to transfer assets between themselves at death without subjecting those assets to the federal estate tax. At least one trustee of a QDT must be a U.S. citizen or a domestic corporation, such as a bank or trust company. The trust document must also provide the no distribution can be made from the trust unless the trustee who is the U.S. citizen or domestic corporation has the right to withhold federal estate taxes from the distribution.

Q: Do I Really Need To Read All Of The Pages Of The Trust Before I Sign It?

A: Yes, although the trust may be lengthy, you are expected to be familiar with its basic provisions and you should ask your attorney for an explanation of any parts of the trust that you do not understand. If a trustor does not understand the provisions of the trust, it might be declared an invalid agreement if it is challenged in court.

Reversing the procedure that originally created the trust revokes a revocable Living Trust, namely titling the assets back into the personal names of the trust makers, a right that is available to the trust maker at any time. No documents need to be filled out. When the assets are all back in the personal possession of the trust maker there are no assets in the trust which means there is no trust. The only exception would be if the trust makers had engaged a corporate trustee such as a bank. In such a case the trust makers simply send the corporate trustee a registered letter stating that its services are no longer needed.

Assets that name a beneficiary on the title of the asset (insurance policies, annuities, 401Ks, IRAs, etc.) need not be placed in the trust, but should be reviewed to make sure contingency beneficiaries have been listed on them. By naming your trust as a contingent beneficiary, the asset will flow into the trust and be distributed by the terms of the trust in the event that both trust maker and the primary beneficiary (usually the spouse) die in a common accident.

Assets do not require an evaluation when placed in the trust nor should assets be formally listed in the trust contract. However, as a helpful courtesy to your successor trustee, list your assets informally on a separate piece of paper and attach it to the trust contract with a paper clip or staple. Trust assets should be evaluated immediately after the surviving spouse dies.

Automobiles, boats and RVs generally pass to the heirs outside of probate in most states. Yet, to avoid possible misunderstandings, it is wise to place such items in the name of the trust.

A Revocable Living Trust does not render its maker judgment proof nor was it ever intended. Though the assets are owned by the trust rather than by the maker or trustee of the trust, the trust maker still has the power to amend or revoke the trust and is thus considered collectable.

For Estate Tax purposes, all assets both in and out of the trust are considered a part of the estate. This would include the face value of insurance policies, IRAs, 401K plans, annuities, pensions, etc. If accomplished three years before death, life insurance placed in its own Irrevocable Insurance Trust will not be considered a part of the estate.