Revocable trusts are often referred to as “living” trusts. With a revocable trust, the person who created the trust, called the “grantor” or “donor,” maintains complete control over the trust and may amend, revoke or terminate the trust at any time. This means that you, the donor, can take back the funds you put in the trust or change the trust’s terms. Thus, the donor is able to reap the benefits of the trust arrangement while maintaining the ability to change the trust at any time prior to death.
Revocable trusts are generally used for the following purposes:
- Asset management. They permit the named trustee to administer and invest the trust property for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries.
- Probate avoidance. At the death of the trust grantor, the trust property passes to whoever is named in the trust. It does not come under the jurisdiction of the probate court and its distribution need not be held up by the probate process. However, the property of a revocable trust will be included in the grantor’s estate for tax purposes.
- Tax planning. While the assets of a revocable trust will be included in the grantor’s taxable estate, the trust can be drafted so that the assets will not be included in the estates of the beneficiaries, thus avoiding taxes when the beneficiaries die.
An irrevocable trust cannot be changed or amended by the grantor. Any property placed into the trust may only be distributed by the trustee as provided for in the trust document itself. For instance, the grantor may set up a trust under which he or she will receive income earned on the trust property, but that bars access to the trust principal. This type of irrevocable trust is a popular tool for Medicaid planning.
As noted above, a testamentary trust is a trust created by a will. Such a trust has no power or effect until the will of the grantor is probated. Although a testamentary trust will not avoid the need for probate and will become a public document as it is a part of the will, it can be useful in accomplishing other estate planning goals. For instance, the testamentary trust can be used to reduce estate taxes on the death of a spouse or to provide for the care of a disabled child.
Special Needs Trusts
Americans are living longer than they did in years past, including those with disabilities. Planning by parents can make all the difference in the life of a child with a disability, as well as that of his or her siblings who may be left with the responsibility for caretaking (on top of their own careers and caring for their own families).
Special needs trusts (also known as “supplemental needs trusts”) are an important component of planning for a disabled child (even though the child may be an adult by the time the trust is created or funded). These trusts allow a disabled beneficiary to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose her eligibility for certain government programs. The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiary in determining her eligibility for public benefits.
Special needs trusts are designed not to provide basic support, but instead to pay for comforts and luxuries that could not be paid for by public assistance funds. These trusts typically pay for things like education, recreation, counseling, and medical attention beyond the simple necessities of life.
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