How Does a Trust Company Work?

A trust company may provide expert investment, asset management and estate settlement services for clients who need them.

Although they aren’t for everyone, a trust company can provide a variety of investment, tax and estate planning services for their customers.  Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “Understanding How Top Trust Companies Operate,” gives us a high-level overview of the nature and function of trust companies, as well as the services they provide.

A trust company is a separate entity owned by a bank or other financial institution, or in some cases by a law firm or other professional. It can manage trusts, trust funds and estates for individuals, businesses and other entities. In most cases the assets are held in actual trusts, with the trust company named as the trustee. They typically use several types of financial professionals, including financial planners, attorneys, portfolio managers, CPAs, and other tax professionals, trust officers, real estate experts and administrative personnel to effectively manage the assets.

Trust companies perform a wide variety of services related to investment and asset management. Most companies manage the investment portfolios within the trusts of their clients, however some prefer a client’s financial advisors do so instead. There’s also a variety of investments, such as individual securities, mutual funds and real estate, that can be employed to achieve growth or income.  They also can provide safekeeping services within secure vaults for other types of tangible investments or valuables, like jewelry, and occasionally for important documents, such as an original will or trust.  They also take full fiduciary responsibility for their clients’ financial well-being. This means that the clients’ best interests are always considered in each service and transaction performed.  See here for a fuller list of areas where a professional fiduciary may be utilized.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/practice-areas/estate-planning/

Most clients use trust companies for estate settlement services, either as the executor or a trustee.  They can perform such tasks as valuation, dispersion and re-titling of assets, payment of debts, and expenses, estate tax return preparation and the sale of closely held businesses.  Trust companies frequently work with their clients’ heirs to provide the same types of services to the estate assets’ recipients as to the donor.

Trust companies aren’t for everyone, but serve a vital role in some estate plans.  They are especially useful where there are likely to be family disputes, disabled or very young beneficiaries, or in some cases, where a client doesn’t have someone they feel comfortable putting in charge of their estate.  Most clients who want to use a professional trustee must meet certain financial requirements, usually including at least a certain net worth, but for clients with these concerns, it’s worth it.  See Kevin’s Korner for more ideas on how to pick your fiduciaries.  https://youtu.be/W2LjFQFmY_I

If you expect to avoid family disputes in your estate, have young or disabled individuals or don’t have someone suitable, you should consider the use of a trust company in your estate plan.  Please contact our office for a free consultation to discuss how a professional fiduciary can help you achieve your goals.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (December 10, 2019) “Understanding How Top Trust Companies Operate”

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A Will is the Way to Have Your Wishes Followed

Individuals often do not make or appropriately update wills because they wrongly believe they aren’t necessary, but the will is the place for your wishes.

A will, also known as a last will and testament, is one of three documents that make up the foundation of an estate plan, according to The News Enterprises’ article “To ensure your wishes are followed, prepare a will.”  Two other very important documents are the Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney. These three documents all serve different purposes, and work together to protect an individual and their family.  Today I’ll focus on the will and its important for conveying your wishes for your assets.

In our practice, we often encounter situations where a person passes away either without a will or without updating their existing will, both of which can lead to tragic results.  Assets will often go to unintended beneficiaries with far greater cost, difficulty and time.

There are a few situations where people may think they don’t need a will, but not having a will or updating it properly can create complications for the survivors.  Here are a few instances where people mistakenly believe they do not need a will.

First, when spouses with jointly owned property don’t have a will, it is because they believe that when the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse will continue to own the property. However, with no will, the spouse might not be the first person to receive any property that is jointly held, and it is especially true that the spouse may not be the first person to receive individually jointly owned property, like a car.  Even when all property is jointly owned—that means the title or deed to all and any property is in both person’s names –upon the death of the second spouse, an intestate (meaning no will) proceeding may have to be brought to court through probate to transfer property to heirs.

We frequently encounter situations where an executor will say that the decedent told them what they want, and that it does not match the will.  Or even worse, a decedent will have an old will that no longer reflects their wishes, such as not updating a will after getting married. In these situations, the will controls the property, even though the wishes are now wrong. It is critical to update your will with changes to make sure that the will conveys your estate to the beneficiaries you want.

Secondly, any individuals with beneficiary designations on accounts transfer those accounts to the beneficiaries on the owner’s death, with no court involvement. The same may apply for POD, or payable on death accounts.  In Texas you can even go so far as to name a beneficiary specifically on your deed or car title.  If the beneficiary named on any accounts has passed, however, their share will go into your estate, forcing distribution through probate.  Beneficiary designations also don’t adequately plan for successors, incapacity of beneficiaries and sometimes don’t allow many beneficiaries.   Clients often try to avoid probate on their own by the use of beneficiary designations, but we often have to open estate administrations where they are incomplete or ineffective for the above reasons.

Third, people who do not have a large amount of assets often believe they don’t need to have a will because there isn’t much to transfer. Here’s a problem: with no will, nothing can be transferred without court involvement. Let’s say your estate brings a wrongful death lawsuit and wins several hundred thousand dollars in a settlement. The settlement goes to your estate, which now has to go through probate.

Fourth, there is a belief that having a power of attorney means that they can continue to pay the expenses of property and distribute property after the grantor dies. This is not so. A power of attorney expires on the death of the grantor. An agent under a power of attorney has no power, after the person dies.

Fifth, if a trust is created to transfer ownership of property outside of the estate, a will is necessary to funnel unfunded property into the trust upon the death of the grantor. Trusts are created individually for any number of purposes. They don’t all hold the same type of assets. Property that is never properly retitled, for instance, is not in the trust. This is a common error in estate planning. A will provides a way for property to get into the trust, upon the death of the grantor.  This is called a pour over will.  See here for more details.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/i-have-a-trust-so-why-do-i-need-a-pour-over-will/

With no will and no estate plan, property may pass unintentionally to someone you never intended to give your life’s work to. Or, having an out of date will that doesn’t reflect your wishes may direct property to someone you no longer wanted to benefit.  Having an up to date will lets the Executor know who should receive your property. The laws of your state will be used to determine who gets what in the absence of a will, and most are based on the laws of heirship. Speak with an estate planning attorney to create a will that reflects your wishes, and don’t wait to do so. Leaving yourself and your loved ones unprotected by an up to date will, is not a welcome legacy for anyone.

Reference: The News Enterprise (September 22, 2019) “To ensure your wishes are followed, prepare a will.”

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I have a Trust, so why do I Need a Pour Over Will?

Even if you utilize a trust in your estate plan, it is essential to have a “pour over will” that directs assets at your death to your trust through probate.

If the goal of estate planning is to avoid probate, it seems counter intuitive that one would sign a will, but the pour over will is an essential part of some estate plans, reports the Times Herald-Record’s article “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

If a person dies with assets in their name alone and without some contractual beneficiary which avoids probate (e.g. life insurance) those assets go through probate. The pour over will names the trust as the beneficiary of probate assets, so the trust controls who receives the inheritance. The pour over will works as a backup plan to the trust, and it also revokes past wills and codicils.

Living trusts became more widely used after a 1991 AARP study concluded that families should be using trusts rather than wills. Trusts were suddenly not just for the wealthy. Middle class people started using trusts rather than wills, to save time and money and avoid estate battles among family members. Trusts also served to keep financial and personal affairs private. Wills that are probated are public documents that anyone can review.  See here for more details.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

The one downfall to a trust is that it must be properly funded to work right.  As I said earlier, you probate assets in your name that do not pass by contractual obligation.  So, the trust must either own assets itself (“funding it”), have assets pass to it (e.g. the life insurance pays to the trust) or you must have some other mechanism for an asset to get to the trust or beneficiaries, such as a “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” account.  The pour over will is the safety net that makes sure if you missed something or obtained an asset you didn’t expect, there is still a way to get that asset to the trust and ultimately to your beneficiaries after death.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to talk about how probate may impact your heirs and see if they believe the use of a trust and a pour over will would make the most sense for your family, and how best to fund the trust to accomplish your goals.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 13, 2019) “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

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