Try a Trust

You don't have to be fabulously wealthy to benefit from a trust. For many people, a trust is a great financial planning tool.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement between the person who sets up the trust and transfers property to it (the "grantor") and the individual or institution that agrees to manage the trust assets (the "trustee"). The grantor specifies who is to benefit from the trust (the "beneficiaries") both during his or her lifetime and at death, if applicable, names the trustee, and spells out in the legal document creating the trust how the trust assets are to be managed and distributed.

What Can a Trust Do?

Trusts can be used for many purposes, including:

  • Managing your assets if you become incapacitated. With a revocable living trust, you can stay in control of your assets while you're able and avoid probate after your death. You can also arrange to have a successor trustee make investment decisions and handle other financial matters for your benefit if you're no longer able to do so. This arrangement avoids the expense and complications of a court-ordered guardianship or conservatorship.
  • Reducing the size of your estate. With a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), you transfer assets with the potential for appreciation to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of a child, other family member, or noncharitable beneficiary and retain an annuity interest for a term of years. When the annuity ends, your child (or other beneficiary) will receive the remaining trust assets. If you outlive the trust term, the value of the assets won't be included in your estate.
  • Donating to charity. If you set up a charitable remainder trust (CRT), you receive an income stream from the donated assets for life or a set number of years. Then, at your death or when the trust term ends, the charity you have chosen will get the trust assets. If you set up a charitable lead trust (CLT), the charity you choose receives income from the assets for a period of time that you specify. After that period ends, the assets flow to your family as "remainder beneficiaries." Both CRTs and CLTs offer potential income tax and estate tax advantages.
  • Preserving wealth for future generations. With a dynasty trust, wealth is preserved and generated by cascading through multiple generations. Any income or appreciation generated by the trust assets may be exempt from estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes as long as it remains in the trust and if the laws governing such trusts are satisfied. Typically, your children and then your grandchildren would be the trust income beneficiaries. You also can determine under what conditions your beneficiaries can or cannot receive income from the trust.
  • Protecting assets from creditors. When you set up a trust, you can generally include "spendthrift" provisions that prevent your beneficiaries from assigning their interest in the trust to creditors. Putting assets in trust for your child instead of giving them to your child outright may be a good way to provide asset protection in case of a future divorce or major lawsuit.

Your financial and legal professionals can provide more information about the different types of trusts and how they may apply to your situation.