Articles Posted in Trusts

Putting together an estate plan is often a long but well-thought-out process. However, last-minute mistakes can lead to future complications. These last-minute mistakes may be changing a designation in the plan at the last second, taking advice from someone and not consulting with their attorney, or not paying attention to changes to applicable laws. Individuals assume their estate plan is setting them up for the future, but if mistakes are made, then the estate plan may not work as intended. Below are two of the most common estate planning mistakes seen by attorneys, along with steps on how to avoid them.

Not Leaving Enough Assets to Fund a Trust

Many people create a trust as part of their estate plan. A trust allows a third party, a trustee, to distribute funds to a named beneficiary. The creator of the trust will provide specific instructions on how funds—or gifts—are to be disbursed to the beneficiary. But when creating a trust, certain individuals forget to make sure there are enough assets in the trust to pay for what has been intended to be given. Estate planning attorneys recommend putting additional funds in the trust in case assets decrease in value over time. Then, the beneficiaries will still be able to receive the amount intended.

A federal bill working its way through Congress will have dramatic implications for Texans and their estate plans. Once the bill becomes law, some of the estate planning techniques that have assisted Americans with sizeable estates will no longer be available. Fortunately, there is still time for Houston residents to take advantage of several favorable laws still in place.

Changes to the Gift and Estate Tax

Perhaps the most notable change to the law will be a sweeping reduction in the unified credit amount. The unified credit amount for a married couple is currently $12 million. This means that married estate holders can make a combined total of $12 million tax-free transfers in the form of lifetime gifts and transfers upon death.

Selecting the right legal instrument for a charitable donation can help ensure that your good deed goes unpunished.

One effective but lesser-known instrument for charitable donations is the charitable lead trust (CLT). Donors can set up this type of trust in Houston to provide a stream of income to a particular charity for a pre-specified term, after which the property will revert to selected members of the donor’s family.

Charitable Giving Options

The recent increase in unexpected deaths as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the issue of estate planning to the front of many people’s minds. In planning for the end of their life, asset holders may be confused by the various tools that may be used to divide their estate. Wills and trusts are both estate planning instruments that are used to protect assets and ensure that they are transferred to heirs as a benefactor desires. Wills and trusts are different from one another. Depending on the circumstances and desires of a benefactor, a will or a trust, or both may be appropriate tools for planning their estate.

Last Will and Testament Basics

Wills are the most common and widely understood methods for distributing an estate upon a family member’s death. A will is a written document that expresses the desires of a deceased person. A will only becomes active upon the death of its creator. Wills may include directives about funeral plans or other end-of-life issues besides property division. If a deceased person has minor children in their sole custody, a will can be used to assign guardianship of the children to another party. Absent a guardianship provision in a will, state courts will be responsible for choosing the legal guardian(s) of a deceased person. If a deceased person does not have a will, their minor children are at risk of being placed in the care of someone who they would not wish to assume legal guardianship of the children.

When a person has property or assets they would like to pass onto loved ones, their best option is to open a trust to manage their assets. However, there are many types of trusts, so it may be difficult to determine which type of trust is the correct one for an individual and their beneficiaries. One type of trust Texans should consider is a spendthrift trust. A spendthrift trust manages a person’s money and property, so the beneficiary of the trust is unable to sell or misuse the funds by receiving them all at once. By creating a spendthrift trust, the creator of the trust can limit a beneficiary’s access to the entirety of the assets at once—which is especially helpful if they are afraid they may spend the money unwisely.

What Is a Spendthrift Trust and Who Should Use One?

A spendthrift trust limits the ability of the beneficiary—the person who will inherit the property—to access the property or assets that are placed in their name. Instead of directly providing the beneficiary with the assets from the trust, the beneficiary receives the assets through the trustee, a third party who manages the trust. While the way the beneficiary receives the assets depends specifically on the trust, some options include regular payments from the trust, as well as the trustee purchasing goods on behalf of the beneficiary with the assets from the spendthrift trust.

While people think about their loved ones receiving their assets—and being financially secure—after their passing, they often do not consider how the loved ones will receive these funds. It may seem simplistic; however, there are a few different ways for loved ones to receive their inheritance. These different methods will all impact how quickly beneficiaries—the individuals who will get the assets after the person’s passing—will receive their inheritance. Below are explanations for the various types of asset distributions utilized by Houston trustees at the end of the estate planning process.

3 Ways To Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries

By creating a trust, a three-party relationship is formed between the grantor—the individual creating the trust, the trustee—the individual who will oversee the trust’s management and ultimately disburse the trust funds—and the beneficiaries. All of these parties play a different role in the estate planning process.

With President Biden’s inauguration, many Americans are wondering if the estate and gift tax exemption will revert to a lower level, as well as what they can do to protect their assets. While there are many Houston estate planning options for individuals to shelter funds from the estate tax, SLAT trusts may be the right option for married couples. Because most Texans are unaware of a Texas SLAT—and how it could benefit them—below are the common questions and explanations of why a SLAT might help their loved ones.

What Is a SLAT Trust, and What Are Its Benefits?

A Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT) is a gift from one spouse to an irrevocable trust for the other spouse’s benefit.  When creating a SLAT, one spouse gifts funds to an irrevocable trust for the other spouse to access once they have passed away. A person creates a SLAT for their spouse to allow them to (i) receive assets up to the federal estate tax exemption; and (ii) prevent the value of the trust from being included in the surviving spouse’s gross estate tax when the spouse dies. The spouse that benefits from the SLAT—often called the beneficiary spouse—can receive assets that are sheltered from the gift tax.

Many individuals – especially those with children – do not want to think about what would happen to their family if they passed away. Although many people have life insurance to cover the cost of raising a child in the event of their untimely death, they do not think about establishing a trust to hold the money for them. Despite the common misconception, trusts are not just for the rich. Rather, they are critical tools for young families and an important part of a comprehensive Houston estate plan. Below are some of the common questions that individuals have about life insurance trusts.

How Does a Life Insurance Trust Work?

Individuals will set up a trust as part of their overall estate plan, typically, when they are creating a will and naming guardians if they have minor children. A trust holds assets – including property and money – for the listed beneficiaries, and the individual creating the trust details how the assets should be utilized. Additionally, the person appoints a trustee to oversee the process and ensure the assets are handled as written.

In Houston and throughout Texas, living trusts allow property owners to use their assets during their lifetime while ensuring that their assets are securely transferred to their beneficiaries. The legal document is similar to a will in that it allows financial assets and personal property to be passed on to named beneficiaries. However, the terms of a will become effective after they die, whereas a revocable living trust becomes effective immediately. These trusts allow property owners to keep control of their assets while living even if they become incapacitated.

Establishing a legally binding living trust is crucial to ensuring that a person’s wishes are appropriately documented and carried out. The trust documents should list the property, the trustee, and the beneficiaries. The relevant property is transferred to the trust, giving the trust control over the assets. Trustees should designate a successor who will be responsible for effectuating the trustee’s wishes. These trusts are useful for controlling and transferring various types of assets, but it is incredibly helpful for property owners. Regardless of age, marital status, or wealth, living trusts are an inexpensive and effective way to reduce and eliminate the stress of distributing assets while maintaining control and privacy.

Not only do living trusts help individuals avoid probate and court control, but it also allows trustees to control the assets during their lifetime. The trustee maintains the ability to buy, sell, modify, or even cancel the trust. Further, revocable living trusts allow the trustee to efficiently transfer assets such as jewelry, furniture, clothes, and art into the trust.

In estate planning, the term “trustee” is often tossed around, but many people do not know what a trustee actually does. In short, a trustee is a person that administers the property or assets for a third party, often for a trust fund or retirement plans and pensions. While the specific duties of a trustee depend on the trust document and what assets are held in the trust, the following describes the duties of trustees and addresses a few of the more common questions people have about a trustee’s responsibilities.

What are a Trustee’s Duties?

First off, the trustee has the responsibility to safeguard the trust assets and act in furtherance of the trust’s goals. Trusts will often have a trust agreement, which specifies how a trustee utilizes the assets in the trust and specific details regarding its management. As such, the trustee must keep accurate records, file tax returns, and report any activity to the beneficiaries, those who are to receive the assets, as required by the trust. Trustees are the decision-makers for any issues that arise regarding the trust and must make the decision based on the trust agreement and with the interests of the beneficiaries in mind.

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