What will happen to your home after you die? This is probably not a topic you’re eager to discuss, but it’s important to have a plan for how your home will be passed on to your heirs, especially as you enter your golden years. Most people rely on the probate process, either through a will or their states inheritance laws, to determine the distribution of their assets, but this can be a slow and expensive process.
Placing your home in a trust is an alternative to the probate process, and it’s not just a tool for the wealthy. If you’re like most homeowners, your home is not only a family residence but also your most valuable asset. Having a plan for how your home will transfer to your heirs can ease the process for them.
What is a trust?
A trust is a legal arrangement that allows the creator (the grantor) to pass on property to a recipient (the beneficiary). The trust is overseen by a trustee according to the grantor’s instructions. Most people name themselves as the trustee with a replacement trustee to take over after they die, an arrangement known as a living, revocable trust.
Why place a home in a trust?
There are several potential benefits to putting a home in a trust:
- To bypass the probate process, which can take months or more than a year
- To avoid the potential cost and complication of having a will contested
- To keep certain details of your estate private
- To lay out when and under what conditions your home will be passed on
- To designate someone to oversee your home if you become incapacitated
- To potentially protect your home from estate taxes and creditors
The downside of setting up a trust is that it can be complicated and expensive compared to creating a will. Many people put just a few key assets in a trust and let their will determine everything else.
What are the types of trusts?
There are many types of trusts, but the two main categories for estate-planning purposes are revocable and irrevocable.
A revocable trust (also known as a living trust) is a trust that can be revoked. During your lifetime, you control the assets in the trust, and you’re free to change or terminate the trust. You typically serve as your own trustee and designate someone to take over as trustee upon your incapacitation or death. After your death, a revocable trust becomes irrevocable, and your new trustee must manage the trust per your instructions.
After an irrevocable trust is executed, it can’t be altered or terminated. When you establish this type of trust, you relinquish ownership of all assets in the trust, and the trustee assumes control of the assets.
Since the assets in the trust are no longer owned by you, they cease to be part of your estate and are generally protected from estate taxes and your creditors. While this can be a big benefit, deciding to hand over ownership of your assets is a major decision, and you may wish to seek legal advice before taking such a step.
How can a home be placed in a trust?
To put your home in a trust, you must first create the trust.
If you’re creating a revocable (living) trust, you must pick a successor trustee to take over the trust after you die, and you’ll need to designate your beneficiaries. You can choose anyone as your successor trustee, but you’ll want to ensure it’s someone reliable – the arrangement is called a “trust” for good reason! If you have a complex estate, it may be wise to select an attorney, trust company or other professional as your successor.
Next, you’ll draw up your trust agreement. This is the document that lays out the details of the trust. You can hire an attorney to create the documentation for you, or you can find standard trust agreements online. Either way, for the trust to be valid, you must sign it in the presence of a notary public (or, if your state allows, have an attorney countersign on your signature).
Then, you’ll need to fill out a new deed to move your home into the trust. You can generally find property deed forms for each state online, or you can delegate the process to an attorney. Your deed form will also need to be signed before a notary public (or be countersigned by an attorney if your state allows), then you must record the deed at your county recorder or clerk’s office.
Many people put off estate planning, but by making these arrangements at an opportune time, you can help safeguard your assets and those you care about.
Draper and Kramer Mortgage Corp. does not provide financial planning, investment, tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for such advice. Do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this material without first consulting a qualified professional for advice.