Estate and Business Planning Legal Blog

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Living Trusts: Are They For Everyone?

The mere mention of the word “probate” usually instills fear in people, conjuring up images of estates dragging on for years and incurring enormous expense. Seminars and books promoting living trusts are pervasive and they foster the misconception that probate is always an evil to be avoided.  Living trusts are touted as devices which avoid estates taxes and protect assets from long term health care costs.

The truth is that living trusts do not generally avoid taxes, nor do they preserve assets. The only type of trusts which can serve this dual function are irrevocable trusts.  Establishing a living trust can accomplish the purpose of avoiding probate, if you are successful in transferring each and every of your assets into the trust.  If you forget or are unable to transfer an asset into the trust, probate will still be required.  Moreover, certain assets, such as items of personal property, furnishings, jewelry, and works of art cannot be placed into a living trust.  If you own a cooperative apartment, you will need to obtain the permission of the coop board in order to transfer the apartment, which permission is commonly denied.  Lastly, funding a living trust can be an arduous process.  The deeds to your real property will need to be changed, and your bank and brokerage accounts will have to be closed and re-opened in the name of the trust. 

While probate can be a long and costly process in some states, that is not generally the case in New York.  As long as the executor and attorney for the estate perform the work promptly, and there is no contest by a disgruntled family member, probate can be accomplished within weeks.  Much of the delay encountered in the administration of an estate is caused by the need to transfer assets into beneficiaries’ names, and by tax issues, neither of which can be avoided by having a living trust.

While a living trust is not appropriate for everyone, it is advisable in certain instances.  If you own real property in more than one state, creating a living trust for that property will avoid the need for a second probate proceeding.  This is especially true if your property is located in a state where probate is a lengthy and expensive process.  If you are or become a resident of another state where probate is difficult, you may wish to create a living trust for all of your assets.  Moreover, if your only next of kin are distant relatives who may not be easily located, or where it is  expected that a family member may contest your will, having a living trust would be beneficial.

In short, if one is interested in avoiding delays in the settlement of one’s estate,  having your affairs in order is essential.  Selecting a responsible Executor and attorney who can handle matters competently and efficiently is an important part of the process.

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At the Law Office of Angela Siegel, we are pleased to offer legal assistance to clients located in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, Kings and New York Counties specifically but not limited to Garden City, Jericho, East Meadow, Mineola, Syosset, Roslyn, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Hicksville, Plainview, Merrick, Wantagh, Bellmore, Rockville Center, West Hempstead, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Flushing, Forest Hills, Astoria, etc., as well as clients located within the state of Florida.

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