Your Living Trust: Avoiding the Pitfalls

Your Living Trust: Avoiding the Pitfalls

A year of Covid has taught many of us about the importance of being prepared. For millions of people who were sick with this virus, having an updated Advance Healthcare Directive meant that their families could make critical-care decisions on their behalf. For the long haulers—those who continue to suffer the longer term consequences of Covid–having a Power of Attorney in place means that if necessary, a trusted friend or family can manage their financial matters.

A Living Trust means that your assets will pass to your family according to your wishes

A Trust means that they will not have to go through Probate, which can be a long and expensive process at what undoubtedly will be a painful time for your family. Yet an estimated 50% of Americans do not create a Trust. Others make mistakes that have disappointing consequences for the beneficiaries.

One of the most common mistakes we see is not funding a Trust

This can be confusing. Funding is the process of transferring ownership of your assets from you to your Trust. To do this, you physically change the titles from your individual name(s) to the name of your Trust. Your Trust can only control the assets you put into it. Make a list of your assets, which can include bank and brokerage accounts, fine art and antiques, real estate, intellectual property, savings accounts and vehicles.

For real estate, you will need to change the property’s title

If a property is in your name, you will change the name to that of the Trust. Owning property in different states does not necessitate having a separate legal document; you can include it in your Trust. A heads-up—if you do a refi, you will need to move the title out of the Trust, then move it back into the Trust.

Retirement accounts and beneficiary designations

What’s missing from your Trust are retirement accounts, annuities, 401k’s and life insurance policies. These do not belong in your Trust. For these accounts, you will name beneficiary designations that will supersede whatever designation you may have identified in your Trust.

For the accounts that do not go into your Trust, this example illustrates just how important it is to update the beneficiary designation. One of our clients went through a bitter divorce. When he remarried, he was careful to update his Trust. What he forgot to update? His life insurance policy and the 401k that still named his ex-wife as the beneficiary. If something had happened to him, it was his ex-wife—not his new wife—who would have been the beneficiary.

Another estate planning issue: Failure to get an inheritance in writing

We see this happen regularly. Uncle Joe promises an inheritance to his favorite nephew Todd. This inheritance is significant enough that it will help pay for his college education, to the relief of his parents—they’re counting on this as part of their own financial planning. When Uncle Joe dies, however, there’s no mention anywhere of this commitment. If you intend to leave something to a loved one, make sure this is included in your Will or Living Trust. If a friend or family member keeps promising to will you something, encourage that person to get it in writing.

Keep your Trust and other documents updated

Keep your Trust updated with life events such as births, deaths, divorces or investments. I like to think of this as any life change that will affect an inheritance. Also review beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life insurance policies. Relationships and alliances change. Periodically review all of these documents to make sure your estate plan truly reflects your wishes.

Where to keep your Living Trust

Guideway prepares a bound document of your Trust. We also provide a copy of your Trust as a pdf file. Keep these in a safe place in your home or office. We suggest that you share the location of these files with a trusted friend or family member. Unlike other legal documents, a Trust doesn’t get filed with the court or county. If you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.

Planning for the future is vital to ensure that you and your family are protected and prepared throughout your later years and beyond.

Schedule an appointment to create or update your Living Trust: In-person or Zoom

We are delighted to be offering in-person appointments again! For those who prefer the convenience of Zoom, we can accommodate that as well. Our Trust package includes a Power of Attorney, an Advance Healthcare Directive and a Pour Over Will. Best of all, we guide you through it and we prepare the legal documents.

We service the entire East Bay and North Bay areas

Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Pinole, Alameda, San Leandro, Castro Valley Newark, San Lorenzo, Concord, Alamo, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Livermore, Tracy and Fremont. Our clients also live in the Napa Valley, Benicia, Vallejo, Martinez, Fairfield.