A will or testament is a legal document by which a person, the testator, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons, the executor, to manage the estate until its final distribution. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy.
Though it has at times been thought that a “will” was historically limited to real property while “testament” applies only to dispositions of personal property (thus giving rise to the popular title of the document as “Last Will and Testament”), the historical records show that the terms have been used interchangeably. Thus, the word “will” validly applies to both personal and real property. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator.
A trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship in which the first party, the trustor or settlor, transfers (“settles”) a property (often but not necessarily a sum of money) upon the second party (the trustee) for the benefit of the third party, the beneficiary.
A testamentary trust is created by a will and arises after the death of the settlor. An inter vivos trust is created during the settlor’s lifetime by a trust instrument. A trust may be revocable or irrevocable; in the United States, a trust is presumed to be irrevocable unless the instrument or will creating it states it is revocable, except in California, Oklahoma and Texas, in which trusts are presumed to be revocable until the instrument or will creating them states they are irrevocable. An irrevocable trust can be “broken” (revoked) only by a judicial proceeding.
At this point, the property transfer has concluded, entirely avoiding probate, through the “Trust law” process, which may be considered as an “evasion of estate tax”.
The trustee is the legal owner of the property in trust, as fiduciary for the beneficiary or beneficiaries who is/are the equitable owner(s) of the trust property. Trustees thus have a fiduciary duty to manage the trust to the benefit of the equitable owners. They must provide a regular accounting of trust income and expenditures. Trustees may be compensated and be reimbursed their expenses. A court of competent jurisdiction can remove a trustee who breaches his/her fiduciary duty. Some breaches of fiduciary duty can be charged and tried as criminal offences in a court of law.
A trustee can be a natural person, a business entity or a public body. A trust in the United States may be subject to federal and state taxation.
A trust is created by a settlor, who transfers title to some or all of his or her property to a trustee, who then holds title to that property in trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The trust is governed by the terms under which it was created. In most jurisdictions, this requires a contractual trust agreement or deed. It is possible for a single individual to assume the role of more than one of these parties, and for multiple individuals to share a single role. For example, in a living trust it is common for the grantor to be both a trustee and a lifetime beneficiary while naming other contingent beneficiaries.
Trusts have existed since Roman times and have become one of the most important innovations in property law. Trust law has evolved through court rulings differently in different states, so statements in this article are generalizations; understanding the jurisdiction-specific case law involved is tricky. Some U.S. states are adapting the Uniform Trust Code to codify and harmonize their trust laws, but state-specific variations still remain.
An owner placing property into trust turns over part of his or her bundle of rights to the trustee, separating the property’s legal ownership and control from its equitable ownership and benefits. This may be done for tax reasons or to control the property and its benefits if the settlor is absent, incapacitated, or deceased. Testamentary trusts may be created in wills, defining how money and property will be handled for children or other beneficiaries.
While the trustee is given legal title to the trust property, in accepting the property title, the trustee owes a number of fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries. The primary duties owed include the duty of loyalty, the duty of prudence, the duty of impartiality. A trustee may be held to a very high standard of care in their dealings, in order to enforce their behavior. To ensure beneficiaries receive their due, trustees are subject to a number of ancillary duties in support of the primary duties, including a duties of openness and transparency; duties of recordkeeping, accounting, and disclosure. In addition, a trustee has a duty to know, understand, and abide by the terms of the trust and relevant law. The trustee may be compensated and have expenses reimbursed, but otherwise must turn over all profits from the trust properties.
There are strong restrictions regarding a trustee with conflict of interest. Courts can reverse a trustee’s actions, order profits returned, and impose other sanctions if they find a trustee has failed in any of their duties. Such a failure is termed a breach of trust and can leave a neglectful or dishonest trustee with severe liabilities for their failures. It is highly advisable for both settlors and trustees to seek qualified legal counsel prior to entering into a trust agreement.
Estate and trust planning is the process of using professional advisors or lawyers who are familiar with your goals, concerns, and assets to organize your estate and/or set up your trust. Estate Lawyers can assist with Estate planning, which covers the transfer of property at death as well as other personal matters.
An estate plan is a very important thing you would need to complete in your life because it creates a comprehensive strategy for managing and passing on assets, insurance, and health directives. Individuals, families, and couples who want to think ahead for the future need to create an estate plan so that different pieces of their net wealth can be managed as part of a unified whole and go to the people that they want.