Common Mistakes with Living Trusts

At Galligan & Manning, we are fans of using trusts in estate plans.  Trusts are versatile, you can accomplish incapacity planning, probate avoidance, tax planning, asset protection and more with trusts.  However, it’s true, as with all planning, that things don’t always go as intended.  Sometimes people make mistakes with living trusts, and although the trust is still a good plan, it doesn’t create all of the benefits intended.  Yahoo Life’s recent article entitled “Why You Should Put Your House in a Living Trust” explains some of the biggest errors people make with trusts.  However, take that article with a grain of salt, there are a few things I disagree with that I’ll mention later.

First, remember that a trust is a fiduciary relationship in which one party (trustor) gives another party (trustee) the right to hold title to property or assets for the benefit of a third party (beneficiary).  In living trusts, this is frequently the same person, at least during their lifetimes, and then there are new individuals to take over as trustee and beneficiary once something happens to the trustor.

Trusts are created for the reasons I mentioned earlier.  Most people ask about them because they want to avoid the probate process.

Also remember that although trusts are generally associated with the wealthy, almost everyone can use them as many people benefit from them.  I personally think they are associated with the wealthy because high profile deaths often reference trusts.  So, if a very wealthy person passes, say Steve Jobs for example, there will be stories talking about his wealth and how it passed by use of trusts.  His lawyers used those trusts for the benefits I mentioned above, but people only hear about it in high profile cases, so they assume that’s what they are for, not realizing everyone can use them.

All that said, if you are using a living trust, here are a few common trust mistakes to consider:

Failing to retitle your real property.  If you own a home, other land, mineral interests, etc, then transferring it to the trust or arranging for it to transfer to your trust at your death with a lady bird deed or transfer on death deed is very important.  If you don’t, probate may be necessary to gain control of the property and transfer it to your trust.

As a note, the Yahoo Life article is incorrect here and when they mention telling your mortgage company of a transfer.  Transferring your owner-occupied primary residence to your revocable living trust does not trigger a “due on sale” clause in the mortgage.  The Garn-St. Germain Act of 1982, which is a federal law governing mortgages, prohibits that.

Failing to trust fund.  Most clients like the idea of avoiding probate.  However, it is important to recognize that the trust itself cannot collect assets for you.  If you have a bank account with your name on it and nothing else addressing title during life or at your passing, the trust isn’t the owner.  The trust WON’T become the automatic owner at your death.  Instead, the probate of will becomes necessary.  This too is an easy thing to address as part of proper estate planning, but sometimes I hear clients say “it’s just a little bit, no big deal.”  I assure you your beneficiaries will not agree.

Failing to tell the insurance company of ownership change. Be sure to tell your home insurance company about retitling to a trust. If not, the insurance company may deny your claim in an event because the actual property owner—your trust—wasn’t insured.  This is seldom is serious problem, but is easy to overlook.

Don’t make these trust mistakes. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure you are getting the most value you can out of your trust.

Reference: Yahoo Life (Jan. 10, 2022) “Why You Should Put Your House in a Living Trust”