Articles Posted in Trusts

One common misconception in estate planning is that everyone’s estate documents revolve around a will. While many of our clients do decide to use a will, many others use the trust instead of or in addition to their will. The trust has purposes that go beyond estate planning, though, and today, we go over some of the basics on Texas trusts to give you a framework for understanding just how useful this tool can be.

What is a Trust?

A trust is a financial arrangement. When the grantor, the creator of the trust, forms the trust, he or she appoints a trustee. This trustee has control of whatever money that the grantor puts into the trust. The trustee doesn’t necessarily use the money for his or her benefit, though. The trust money benefits one or more beneficiaries, named specifically by the grantor. The trustee’s job is to administer the trust and manage the assets so that the beneficiaries can profit from the trust property.

Types of Trusts

There are several kinds of trusts, and each one helps achieve a different goal. In estate planning, we often talk about the testamentary trust. This kind of trust goes into effect when you die, and you maintain the right to change it any point during your lifetime. Once you pass, the trust becomes irrevocable, or unchangeable.

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Many clients, especially after they have had an especially profitable year, ask our team about how to best structure their charitable giving. Giving money away is a noble goal, and part of our job as estate planning attorneys is to help you figure out how to have the greatest impact while still making sure your financial foundation is solid. One tool we often suggest for our clients’ charitable giving is called the charitable remainder trust. Today’s blog goes into some details about this kind of trust, so that you might be able to discern whether it could be right for you.

A charitable remainder trust is a tool that allows you to both contribute to a worthy cause and be eligible for important tax benefits. Once you deposit money into the charitable remainder trust, you automatically offset or minimize your current tax liabilities. As time goes on, you stay in some control of the money deposited in the trust, and you become eligible to receive a potential income stream from the trust itself. Then, when you pass, the remainder of the trust is given to the charity or charities of your choosing.

Because you get the trust’s tax deduction today, but you still have access to the income from the trust over your lifetime, the charitable remainder trust can truly be the best of both worlds. Importantly, a contribution to a charitable remainder trust constitutes an irrevocable transfer of cash, so it is essential to choose your contribution wisely.

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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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