Demystifying Trusts

Planning our estate with Wills and Trusts.

Planning our estate with Wills and Trusts.

I can’t tell you how many times I get calls from people who want to create a trust of some kind as a part of their estate plan. There are many types of trusts and they all serve different purposes. I have created a summary of the most common types of trusts and what they are used for as a basic guideline to help dispel some of the myths around “trusts” and how they are used. There are many different asset protection tools available, including LLCs and family partnerships and so trusts are an important vehicle but not the only way to protect assets. As an estate planning tool, trusts are an important planning technique but not always either necessary or advisable. If you are curious about trusts and how they are used, I hope the summary below gives you some helpful information.

First, there are revocable trusts and irrevocable trust. Revocable living trusts are generally used as part of an overall estate plan and are important planning tools in Colorado when a client has assets in multiple states or a very complex asset structure, has an imminent disability that would require a successor trustee to be able to step in seamlessly, or has a need for privacy. While probate avoidance is important in some jurisdictions, Colorado has an informal and relatively simple probate process that can make the expense of trust set up contraindicative for simple estates. Revocable living trusts do not shelter assets from the creditors of the settlor and become irrevocable upon the death of the settlor.

An irrevocable trust cannot be modified or revoked after it is created. Examples of these are Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT) or Asset Protection Trusts, which can be set up in jurisdictions such as Nevada or the Cook Islands that have trust protection laws. ILITs are generally used as an estate planning technique for those who find themselves in the position of having taxable estates ($5.43 million in 2015) and Asset Protection Trusts are used to make sure that future creditors can never access the Trust to satisfy a judgment against the settlor.

Charitable Remainder Trusts are set up to benefit a nonprofit organization.   These are used as an estate planning technique and can help avoid the estate being taxed and gift tax implications. The settlor receives benefits during his or her life and also receives the intangible benefit of being recognized by the charity beneficiary during his or her life.

Special Needs Trusts are set up for people who are disabled and receiving government benefits. The disabled beneficiary cannot control the amount or frequency of the trust distributions and cannot revoke the trust. Parents of a disabled child can establish a special needs trust as part of their estate plan and not worry that their child will be prevented form receiving necessary benefits when they are not their to care for their child.

There are many other types of trusts, including Spend Thrift Trusts which are created to protect a beneficiaries’ interests from creditors, Tax By-Pass Trusts, Totten Trusts, etc. If you are curious about whether a trust might be an important tool to manage your assets, I would be happy to discuss the various types and how they might or might not be applicable to your situation.