Articles Posted in Trusts

The diversity of estate planning tools available for Texans is vast, and without guidance, it can be difficult to figure out which tool works best for your individualized needs and goals. One specific tool that might be useful for you or a loved one is called the special needs trust. In today’s blog, we review the special needs trust – its advantages, its implications, and important tips to keep in mind if you are thinking about pursuing this trust for someone in your life.

The special needs trust is an irrevocable trust that benefits a physically or mentally disabled individual. The money put in this kind of trust is untouchable to creditors and lenders, and it is managed by a trustee who controls the trust’s assets. Under the law in Texas, the trustee cannot give the trust’s beneficiary money directly from the trust, but he or she can instead use the money to cover the beneficiary’s education, medical needs, and services that might be needed to help the beneficiary navigate his or her disability.

One important advantage of the special needs trust is that the money in the trust does not contribute to the beneficiary’s income for purposes of Social Security Income (SSI). If a disabled person wants to receive these benefits, he or she cannot have more than $2,000 to his or her name. With the special needs trust, however, the amount of money held in the trust has no bearing on this $2,000 maximum. The trust therefore allows these beneficiaries to both receive SSI and, at the same time, keep money in the special needs trust.

Are you delving into the world of trusts and finding yourself unsure of where to start? A common stumbling block for those looking to learn about trusts (or estate planning more generally) is the legal language that comes up in the process. Today, we review some key trust terms that everyone should know, so that you can move forward in your estate planning process with a solid foundation under your belt.

People Involved in a Trust

The trustee: a trustee is in charge of overseeing the assets in the trust. Many people appoint a family member or friend as their trustee, but you can also hire an outside party to oversee your trust.

The beneficiary: a trust’s beneficiary is the person (or group of persons) receiving assets from the trust. Parents, for example, may create a trust for their children – the children then qualify as the beneficiaries.

The settlor: the settlor transfers his or her asset into the trust, which in turn creates the trust.

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Deciding who to appoint as a trustee or executor as part of your estate plan can be a tricky business. One obvious option for a trustee is a valued family member, someone that you can count on to act in accordance with your best interest. At McCulloch & Miller, we have years of experience advising clients on how to choose the right trustee or executor for them, helping them make a decision that works well for their individualized circumstances.

What is a Trustee or Executor?

A trustee is a person that you designate to oversee your trust; this person is in charge of making sure the trust’s assets are used according to your wishes. An executor, on the other hand, is a person appointed to carry out the terms of your will or estate plan. This person will sort out your finances and assets after you are gone.

What is the Cost of Appointing a Trustee or Executor?

When deciding who to appoint as a trustee or executor, you may have many options in front of you: in particular, you might need to choose whether to appoint a family member or a professional as the person to oversee your assets.

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As you go about your estate planning process, you will necessarily think about who you want to be the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your assets. If you are leaving behind money for your children, you have worked hard to earn that money and keep it safe for future generations in your family. If you have a child with poor money management skills, then you might be worried that the money will be spent frivolously. In this blog post, we go over a few ways you can protect estate assets from heirs who might be at risk for depleting assets you leave behind.

Option One: Spendthrift Provisions

One solution to the problem of untrustworthy beneficiaries is creating a trust with a “spendthrift provision.” This kind of provision essentially puts limits on how a beneficiary can use the money he or she inherits in a trust. For example, you can explicitly state that you only want a beneficiary to benefit from a trust if he or she is gainfully employed. You can write that the money is only to be used for specific purposes, such as rent, utilities, or car payments. You can also give restricted deposits so that the beneficiary does not receive too much money from a given payment.

Setting up spendthrift provisions requires specificity in order to eliminate the risk that the provision can be interpreted in ways that are different from how you intended. Contacting a qualified attorney to help create your spendthrift provision is always a good idea.

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For many of our clients and potential clients, trusts are a somewhat foreign concept and are thought of as inaccessible tools only for the uber-wealthy. Fortunately, this is a misconception, and individuals with all different kinds of estates, assets, and debts are able to benefit from establishing a trust. In today’s blog, we take the time to walk you through several key misconceptions we see about Texas trusts. Here are several myths and realities that we think every Texan should know:

Myth: Only wealthy individuals should consider setting up a trust.

Reality: Trusts can benefit those with large estates, small estates, and everything in between. One possible trust purpose, for example, is protecting assets from creditors if you think you might have debts to pay. By putting money into a trust, you can insulate it from the outside world and make sure it is only used for your desired purposes.

Myth: Trusts cost too much money to maintain – they just aren’t worth the hassle and money.

Reality: While some individuals do invest considerable time and money into creating and maintaining their trusts, there are ways to go about the process that actually saves you money in the long term. For example, assets in a trust can avoid the probate process, which saves your estate considerable time and money after your death. Additionally, you can appoint a trustee that is a family member – if your family member does not want payment for being the designated trustee, you’ve avoided a major expense commonly associated with trusts.

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In the past, on our blog, we have gone over the possible benefit of establishing a trust when you are engaging in the estate planning process. Forming a trust can be complicated, and there are several different kinds of trusts that fit different sets of needs, depending on the nature and size of an individual’s estate. In particular, an irrevocable trust is a tool that might be right for you as you are thinking about how to organize your estate.
An irrevocable trust is a specific kind of trust that allows the trust’s creator to designate assets to a beneficiary – once transferred, the trust cannot be altered. The trust’s creator automatically loses control over the assets once the beneficiary receives them.

Advantages and Disadvantages: What You Need to Know

An obvious disadvantage to the irrevocable trust is that as soon as the transfer happens, you (the grantor) lose control over the trust property. The irrevocable trust can also be subject to higher tax rates than other kinds of trusts.
On the other hand, however, any assets that are part of an irrevocable trust do not contribute to the value of a person’s estate, which is what often determines how much an individual pays in taxes outside of the trust. In addition, property in an irrevocable trust avoids probate, which can be extremely beneficial for a person’s loved ones after that person is gone.

Irrevocable trusts can also allow individuals to continue accessing government benefits like Medicare and Supplemental Security Income. The government will generally refrain from counting money in an irrevocable trust as part of someone’s total net worth when deciding whether that person qualifies for important benefits, which allows those individuals to avoid being exempt from receiving the money they might need.

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Organizing your assets in the form of a legal trust can be a valid and helpful tool in estate planning. If you are establishing a trust, you are likely trying to decide who to appoint as your trustee, which can often be a tough decision. A trustee, by definition, is an individual with the power to administer the trust’s property in accordance with the desires of the trust’s owner. In thinking through who to choose as your trustee, there are several main considerations you should keep in mind.


The most important quality of a trustee is trustworthiness. When you establish a trust, you articulate your goals, priorities, and desires for how the trust property will be administered. The trustee is the person that ensures this process goes smoothly and is in accordance with the owner’s goals. If you do not trust the person you appoint, there is always a risk that he or she will not work with your best interests in mind. Appointing someone trustworthy can help ensure that the entire process goes as you plan when you establish the trust.

If you appoint a trustee that is also a close family member or friend, consider possible implications if a conflict arises out of issues around the trust. While trustworthiness can be inherent in close personal relationships, sometimes hiring a third party can be helpful to make sure things run smoothly without additional interpersonal conflicts.

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Unfortunately, the law around estate planning can be complex and technical in a way that makes it difficult to sort through. Fortunately, though, the law provides for a diverse array of options for those undergoing the estate planning process. Many of our clients come to us, for example, asking us to help them create a thoughtfully written will. It is important to note that wills are not the only option for those looking to make long-term plans. Another tool, the trust, comes in the form of a revocable living trust, which can be beneficial for those looking to both use their assets now and securely transfer them after their death.

What is a Revocable Living Trust?

When done correctly, creating a trust allows individuals to forgo the probate process and pass assets directly to their beneficiaries after they die. If the trust is revocable, the individual maintains the right to suspend the trust at any time, taking back the assets that are hers or his in order to use them in the short-term future.

As we have discussed elsewhere in our blog, the probate process can be long, drawn out, and public. Creating a trust, however, allows for a secure and private transfer of assets upon the designator’s death. By forming a trust, designating a trustee, and naming beneficiaries, individuals can make sure their assets will pass on seamlessly to those they care about.

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Recently, a court of appeals in Texas had to decide an important case regarding the interpretation of a decedent’s trust, which had implications for several family members who stood to benefit from the sale of a property specified in the trust. The trust in question was created by a man who intended to leave his property to his brothers, his sisters, and their children after his death. Fifty years after he died, however, the man’s nieces and nephews had questions about how the trust should be interpreted.

Facts of the Case

The decedent in this case passed away in 1964; according to his will, his property was put into a trust for the benefit of his siblings, nieces, and nephews. Per the terms of the trust, the properties would bring in income, and that income would be distributed to the siblings, nieces, and nephews as time went on. Twenty-one years after the death of the last niece or nephew alive at the man’s death, the trust would terminate.

In 2020, the trustee initiated this litigation, asking the court to determine whether one of the pieces of property could be sold. The court’s ruling would be important, said the trustee, because it would affect how income would be distributed to the nieces and nephews, as well as how much income they would receive. One of the nephews became involved in the litigation, arguing the property could not be sold and had to stay as it was.

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In a recent case before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, two siblings asked for a decision regarding the assets left in their father’s estate. Originally, the siblings fought when one took longer than the other wanted to distribute funds from their father’s trust. Without clear guidelines for how to handle the father’s estate, the siblings found themselves in a legal battle that went on for years after their father’s death.

Facts of the Case

This case originated when the father of two siblings died in October 2014. After the death, the decedent’s daughter was named trustee of the family’s trust, and it was her responsibility to distribute the money in the trust.

Several years later, the trustee’s brother sued her, arguing that she was intentionally and maliciously keeping funds from him by delaying the distribution of funds. He asked the trial court to order his sister to distribute his share of his father’s estate immediately, as well as to order her to pay the attorney’s fees he accrued in the lawsuit.

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