10 Most Frequently Asked Questions
I have a Will. Why would I need a Trust?
When you die, your Will must be "probated." Probate is a formal public procedure of the Superior Court. Most probates take about two years. During this time your estate will be frozen. Plus, anyone can pull your probate file and find out all about you. They can read your Will and see what you own, what you owe, and to whom you have left your estate, since this is all part of the public record.
Probate is expensive. Probate fees are paid to the attorney who does the probate. These fees are set by state law. In California these fees are a percentage of the gross amount of the estate, not the net. For instance, if all you owned was a home valued at $275,000.00 with a $200,000.00 mortgage, the minimum fees an attorney would be awarded to probate your will would be about $12,000.00. The administrator would get the same amount, so the cost to probate your will would be about $24,000!
Trusts do not go through probate, therefore you need a trust.
Now that the exemption from the Federal Estate Tax (Death Tax) has been increased from $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, why would I need a trust?
Please see the answer to #1 above. The "Probate Fees" are paid to an attorney. They are not a tax. They are not paid to the government. The increased exemption from the "Death Tax" has nothing at all to do with "Probate Fees!"
If a trust avoids "Probate Fees," (as much as I would like to do that), is there any way to reduce or avoid the "Death Tax?"
Yes. There are many ways to avoid or reduce the "Death Tax." All of these are best accomplished through a trust if you live in California. For example, one simple way you can double the $1,500,000 exemption is if you are married, yet few people take advantage of this method. This is a special kind of trust. You can learn more about how to avoid "Death Taxes" at one of our free workshops.
I have everything, my home, bank accounts, etc., in "Joint Tenancy" with my spouse. If I die my spouse will get everything, without probate. If she died, I will get everything, without probate. So what is the big thing with probate? It looks like we avoid it with "Joint Tenancy" right?
Wrong! If you die, your spouse will own everything you own in "Joint Tenancy" with her/him, and without probate. If she/he dies the same will be true for you. The problem is that when the last of you die, there will be a probate. "Joint Tenancy" does not avoid probate, it just puts it off.
A Trust is the only way to avoid probate.
Given what you have told me about Joint Tenancy, why not just put our children's names on our home, bank accounts, etc., as "Joint Tenants", along with my wife and me?
Never do this. If you put your children's' names on your home and accounts as "Joint Tenants" you have made a gift to them of a proportional share of each asset. If you make a gift of over $11,000.00 per person per year you will have Gift Tax problems. You have also given the "gift" of your "basis" in those assets when you make the gift.
For example, if you purchased a stock for $100.00 and leave them the stock when it is worth $10,000.00, they will pay taxes on the difference between their proportional basis in the $100.00 and the sales price. If you left the same stock to them in your Trust their basis would be the value of the stock on the date of your death. They would pay far less, perhaps zero Capital Gains Tax, if you left the same stock to them using your Trust.
As if that were not enough, if your children have a problem with creditors, the IRS., California State Franchise Tax Board, etc., those creditors could seize the asset! If the kids file Bankruptcy the Trustee in Bankruptcy could own a portion of your accounts, home, and anything else that has that child's name on it. If the child gets divorced, you may have another problem.
If you put your children's names on the deed, you could be in a real mess. When the children grow up and move away, you may want to sell the house. When you do, you will find you have a nasty surprise. You and your spouse will have a $500,000 exemption from Capital Gains Tax on your home. Your kids will have a zero exemption. They will have to pay the Capital Gains Tax!
To make matters worse, they will also have to sign the deed in order for you to sell the home. What if they don't want to pay the tax and refuse to sign the deed? There are many other reasons not to do this, but again, the best way to handle this is to have a Trust. When you attend one of our free workshops you will learn a lot more.
If my spouse and I put our children's names on our accounts as "POD" beneficiaries they will get those assets when both of us die. What is wrong with that?
Of course things might work out right if you do that, but they might not. If your children are under eighteen when both of you die, the money will be held for them in a court blocked account until their 18th birthday. Your children getting money on their 18th birthday is very likely not a good thing.
Plus, what if one of your children die before you? Would you want the asset to go to your other children, or to the children of the child that died? This kind of account is at best a gamble. If you leave your children assets in your Trust, you can have a Successor Trustee of your choice hold the assets for them until they reach an "age of reason." This is usually NOT 18! During the time it is held, the Trustee can use the money for the children's support and education. You will learn a lot more about this at one of our free workshops.
I have heard that every time you take something out of your trust, or buy anything, you have to go to your attorney and have your trust changed. Why would I want to do that?
Some attorney's do set up trusts that require you to go to them each time you buy or sell anything, or write trusts that require constant updating. Walters & Ward does not do that. We give our clients a "Certificate of Trust" that allows them to put things into, and take things out of their trust themselves. We give them extensive written instructions about how to do this, and we never charge to talk to the attorney: not before preparation of their trust, during preparation, or after.
I have heard that if I have a trust I lose control over my assets. Why would I want to do that?
This is not true. Some people choose to have a bank, brokerage house, or a like entity be the Trustee (the person or company in charge of a trust). Most people do not choose to do this. You are the Trustee of your own trust and you pick the Successor Trustee.
I have been married before. I have two children by that marriage. When I die, I want to leave something to my kids, but I want to take care of my current spouse. If I leave everything to my spouse, she could leave it all to her new husband. On the other hand, if I leave it to my kids, my spouse will not have enough to take care of her in her old age. Is there any way I can take care of my current spouse and take care of my kids?
Yes. There are many ways you can set up your trust to take care of this. There are many different kinds of trusts. We will teach you all about this at our free workshop.
What if I have a trust, but things change and I want to change the trust?
This is not a problem. A Revocable Living Trust can be amended, or revoked. You can change it as often as you want. However, remember that putting new assets in your trust, or taking them out, is not an amendment to your trust, at least the way we do them. Usually, the reason people amend their trusts is because they want to change who is in charge of their assets after they die, or who they want to leave their assets to.
Have more questions?
The best way to have them answered is to attend one of our free Wills and Trusts Workshops. There is no cost and no obligation. If you would like to attend a free Wills and Trusts Workshop, just give us a call or sign up online.