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Should You Create a Trust Fund? It Could Help You Preserve Wealth

Weigh the costs and benefits of establishing a trust as part of your estate planning.

Articles by Corbin Blackwell, CFP®

By Corbin Blackwell, CFP®
Financial Planner, Betterment
Published: June 11, 2014 | Updated: December 4, 2019

For those who have assets to leave as a legacy, a trust can be a strategic part of estate planning. Trust assets can include everything from a life insurance settlement and real estate to investments and cash. However, not all trusts are the same—there are many variations, each with specific benefits and restraints.

In the past, establishing a trust was largely viewed as a tool for very high net worth individuals looking to preserve wealth across generations. But these days, easily accessible low-cost investing accounts help us all take advantage of the value that creating a trust can provide for our assets.

One of the benefits of trusts is that they can shield assets from lawsuits and probate costs. Many are interested in these benefits regardless of their net worth. With the emergence of automated investing services, like Betterment, setting up and managing a trust account of any size is easier than ever.

Selecting the right type of trust for your needs will be something to discuss with an estate planning specialist, such as a financial advisor, accountant, or estate planning attorney.¹ However, there are some general benefits that most trusts offer. Below is a summary to help you decide whether a trust may be right for you.

Privacy and Protection

After an individual’s death, an estate typically goes through probate, where the will is open for public scrutiny and assets may be used to pay off creditors. If assets are held in multiple states (real estate, for example), probate will take place in every state—adding substantial costs to settling an estate. The costs associated with probate could reduce the estate by 3% to 7% on average—and that’s not including additional estate taxes and income taxes that may be due.

These additional costs mean significantly less assets are given to the intended beneficiaries. With certain types of trusts, all assets that have been placed in the trust are considered property of that trust, and thus they are off limits to creditors, they’re kept out of public record, and they can avoid probate.

Trusts are also a useful way to shield and protect assets for people who are at higher risk of litigation, such as doctors. Placing assets in a trust may also reduce the potential for lawsuits between heirs.

Taxes

Different types of trusts provide different tax advantages. For example, an irrevocable life insurance trust shelters any life insurance death benefit proceeds from estate taxes.

The most popular type of trust is a revocable living trust, which is a trust that can be modified once it is established. It’s created during the grantor’s (the person who funds the trust) lifetime. On its own, a revocable living trust doesn’t provide specific tax benefits, but additional provisions can be added to these trusts to help reduce estate taxes.

There are about nine commonly used trust types. Speaking with an estate planner and tax advisor will help you determine how to maximize tax advantages and establish the right type of trust for your needs.

Distribution Control

Not all beneficiaries need the same thing. A trust can establish guidelines for how and when funds are distributed. Rather than simply naming the person who will inherit your assets, you can add provisions that specify how the trust assets can be used. By adding these provisions to your trust, you can help your assets last longer, since you decrease the risk of a beneficiary draining the account for frivolous expenses. For example, funds might be earmarked for education, for special medical needs, or for distribution only after the beneficiary has reached a certain age.

In addition, a trust can ensure—through its guidelines—that money is distributed in a specific way to a specific entity, rather than an individual. This might mean a charity, a religious institution, or your alma mater.

Sound Investment Strategy

A trustee is the person(s) named in a trust document who is responsible for making decisions regarding the trust. By law, a trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to oversee the funds entrusted to them. Regulation, such as the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, states that a trustee must act “prudently” when administering a trust, which means holding the investments in a sound interest-bearing account, as well as assessing the risk, return, and diversification of assets.

Trustees can be an investment firm or an individual. Trustees should ensure trust assets are invested wisely to fulfil the specific aims of the trust.  Automated investment services like Betterment provide trustees with an easy, low-cost way to manage a trust.

Consider the Benefits

Whether you are looking for asset protection, privacy, tax minimization, control over how your beneficiaries use their inheritance, or a combination of each of these things—establishing and managing a trust has never been easier.

After speaking with your estate planning specialist and determining which type of trust is best for you, check out our FAQ on what we offer for trust accounts here at Betterment.


¹Note that Betterment is not a tax advisor and nothing in this blog post should be construed as specific advice—please consult a tax advisor regarding your specific circumstances.

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