Trust DocumentsThis is the next article in our series on how residents of Hartford and other Connecticut areas may be able to avoid probate after the death of a loved one. The last article discussed assets which transfer without the need for probate. These include bank accounts, investment accounts, and other items in which one names a beneficiary. Title to Real estate may also be passed, however you will still need to obtain a release of succession tax lien through the probate court for any real estate interests owned by a decedent at the time of his death. An attorney can assist you with ensuring that all of your beneficiary designations are up to date. In this article we will discuss how a living trust may be used to bypass probate. If you need assistance, then contact our office today to speak with an estate planning attorney.

A living trust is created while the individual who wishes to pass on their assets is still alive. The individual, who is known as a “grantor,” begins this process by completing a “declaration of trust.” The trust will then operate as a separate entity which may buy and sell property and conduct business. The grantor will transfer his or her assets into the trust and the trust’s affairs will be managed by a “trustee.” The grantor will typically serve as the trustee during his or her lifetime and may continue to enjoy the use of their assets. Upon the grantor’s passing, the trust will contain instructions as to who is to take over as trustee and how the trust is to operate or be distributed. Since the trust is a separate legal entity, the probate process will not govern the distribution of its assets. In other words, if the grantor has transferred all of their assets into a living trust, then their heirs will not be required to go through probate.

A living trust can provide a great amount of flexibility as to how one’s assets are distributed. This level of flexibility far exceeds what can be accomplished through simply having a last will and testament. If an individual, for example, simply has a last will and testament then their assets must be distributed after their death through the probate process. It is not possible to delay the distribution of assets until some future date or event. A trust, by contrast, can contain conditions as to how it is to continue to hold the assets by the new trustee after the grantor passes away. This means that assets can be held in the trust for months, years, or until some triggering event occurs.

Consider the following example. Joe owns a home and has over $1m in investments. He places his assets into a living trust and continues to enjoy his assets throughout his lifetime. Upon his death, the trust states that his son will take over as the trustee. The trust also states that his son shall receive title to the house. Also, the trust states that the $1m is to be used for the college tuition of Joe’s two grandchildren, one of whom is a senior in high school while the other is a junior. Finally, the trust states that the remainder of the $1m is to be equally divided amongst the three heirs after both grandchildren have graduated or ten years have passed, whichever comes first. This type of long-term asset management would not be possible without a trust as, again, assets must be distributed immediately when they go through probate. A trust, therefore, has allowed Joe’s assets to skip probate and for the assets to be used towards goals which Joe had (having his grandchildren graduate).

A living trust can provide flexibility and insurance against going through the probate process. It is important, however, that a trust be set up correctly. An improperly structured trust can result in the instrument being invalidated, in assets being excluded from the trust, and in fighting amongst the heirs. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney can help to ensure that your affairs are handled correctly. Our Hartford trust lawyers have been serving the area for decades and we take pride in the level of service which we offer. Contact us online or by telephone to schedule an initial consultation. We also service the Connecticut areas of Wethersfield, New Britain, Bristol, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, East Hartford, Glastonbury, and Manchester, as well as the Middlesex County cities of Middletown and Cromwell.