Estate Planning for Beginners Part 6: Funding Your Trust
July 8, 2011
The hard part is done. Your estate plan has been created, all the documents signed and witnessed and notarized. But wait, you’re not quite done yet—especially if your estate plan includes a trust. The task of funding that trust still remains. Without the completion of this crucial step all of your hard work could be for naught.
Funding is the process of putting all of your property into the trust. Your trust is more than just a piece of paper. It works like a protective box, keeping its contents private and safe from probate, and funding is the process of filling that box. Without funding, your trust is just an empty box and doesn’t provide much protection at all.
The first question you may ask is “what should go into the box”? The easy answer is almost everything, except retirement accounts such as IRA’s, 401K’s, and certain tax deferred items such as tax qualified annuities and insurance policies. Start by asking your attorney to create a deed to help you put your home into your trust. For most people, their home is their greatest asset, and the first and most important item to put into the protective box.
The next step is to go to your bank and investment advisor and put your bank accounts and stocks or investments, and any other immediate assets into the name of your trust. To do this you will need your Certification of Trust, which is a short document proving the existence of your trust. Your attorney can provide you with copies of your Certification of Trust.
The third step is to look at all of your tax-deferred assets such as retirement accounts, 401(k) accounts, or life insurance policies. These tax-deferred assets cannot be owned by the trust, but to ensure that the proceeds of these assets are distributed according to your wishes you will need to make your trust either a primary or a contingent beneficiary of the accounts or policies, depending upon your circumstances. If you make the trust your primary beneficiary of these items, then you are arranging to funnel the proceeds of these assets into the protective box when the time comes. But keep in mind that not all tax-deferred assets are created equal—ask your advisor before designating your trust as the beneficiary of these items.
Your last step is to execute a comprehensive transfer document, a simple document stating your desire to put all small or tangible property such as furniture, artwork, antiques, etc., into that protective box, and be considered trust property, rather than subject to probate.
Of course every estate will be different; ask your attorney for a comprehensive list of assets to put into your trust. It is only once you’ve tucked all your assets away under the protection of your trust that you can finally breathe that final sigh of relief.
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