A Living Trust in Washington State: Is it Right for You? Oh, and What Is It?
You’ve probably heard about a “living trust” or a “revocable trust” before but may not know what exactly it is. The concept is not one used in everyday life, but it is much simpler than you might think. A living trust is simply an agreement—either between yourself, if you are a single person, or with your spouse or partner. A living trust is just one part, albeit an important part, of an estate planning strategy, which should be designed to secure your future and that of your loved ones.
What Is a Living Trust in Washington State?
Creating an estate plan may include establishing a living trust. A living trust in Washington State is a document created by a trustor or grantor (e.g., YOU). You can create a revocable or irrevocable trust in Washington State, although this article focuses more on revocable. The trustor transfers ownership of their property to the trust. So, for example, the trust would be on the deed to your home. In the case of a revocable living trust, the trustor is the beneficiary during their lifetime, and their family members or other loved ones are the contingent beneficiaries after their death. A trust is managed by a trustee, for the benefit of the named beneficiaries.
Revocable Living Trusts
With a revocable living trust in Washington State, the trustor may make changes to their trust at any point during their life. This includes adding or removing property, changing beneficiary designations, or even dissolving the trust if you choose to. A living trust operates to hold your assets in a trust while you, the trustor, use and control them. In many cases, the trustor will act as the trustee of a revocable trust during their lifetime, so long as they have capacity.
What are the Advantages of a Revocable Living Trust in Washington State?
A living trust affords you, the trustor, multiple advantages. While initially appearing complex, once implemented, a trust operates as a secure instrument holding all of your property and assets in one place.
Flexibility and Control
One of the main benefits of a living trust in Washington State is the flexibility the instrument affords you during your lifetime. During your life, a revocable living trust permits you complete control over your assets and property. Additionally, even after your death, you maintain control over your assets. The successor trustee to your trust must carry out your wishes as dictated in your trust.
As trustor of your trust, you may decide how to make distributions over time. For example, the trust can hold the property for a young child’s benefit until they reach the age of maturity—or even until that child is well into middle age and beyond! You also have the freedom to make incremental distributions to beneficiaries, so they do not receive a bulk distribution at one time. For example, you can choose to have your children receive outright distributions at ages 30, 35, and 40 to ensure that they wisely use their inheritance instead of squandering it.
Although Washington State probate administration operates more smoothly than in some other states, a properly funded living trust also avoids probate. Probate is typically costly and may take months to complete. A court oversees the entire distribution of your estate. Therefore, the distribution of assets does not occur until the completion of the probate, which, in Washington State, takes an absolute minimum of four months. So, while not terribly burdensome in Washington, probate is certainly not a fun or fast experience
An essential benefit of living trusts is the privacy they afford. The terms of your trust, beneficiaries, and property within your trust are legally never required to be made public. Probate, on the other hand, requires a will to become a matter of public record, including distributions that will go to your heirs, along with their names. Many people prefer a living trust for this very reason!
A living trust also affords protection if you later lose the capacity to make legal decisions. In that case, without a trust (or power of attorney documents), your loved ones would be required to go to court and seek guardianship over you to manage your finances and/or medical decisions. But if all your assets and property are held in your living trust, your designated trustee would be able to manage your assets, and a conservatorship would not be required.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Living Trust in Washington State?
While living trusts provide many benefits, they are not for everyone. We always carefully review the pros and cons of a living trust with each and every client to determine whether it is the right choice for you and your family. Part of choosing the right plan means careful and thoughtful analysis of your estate and your needs. Estate planning is certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation!
Small or Simple Estates
In some situations, it may not be necessary to create a living trust. For example, in Washington State, an estate worth less than $100,000 completely avoids probate. In this situation, it is likely not worth it to pay the cost of establishing a trust.
Likewise, many estates are “simple” ones, in that all assets can be passed along by beneficiary designations to adult beneficiaries. In these instances, the cost and effort of creating a living trust simply doesn’t make sense.
A Living Trust Requires Action
Creating a living trust in Washington requires an additional step: you must “fund” the trust for it to work as desired. To protect your estate from probate, you must transfer all your property into the trust by putting title in the trust’s name. Failing to make a complete inventory of property is a common mistake—one that our firm avoids by creating a robust asset spreadsheet with careful instructions for every client!
The transfer process takes time and a bit of know-how. In addition to other changes, new deeds must be recorded for your real property, forms must be filled out to update all accounts and beneficiary designations, and assignments to the trust must be made. Unlike many other firms, our highly competent staff will walk you through every single one of these changes. We don’t leave our clients to their own devices! We make sure when you leave our office, your trust is completely funded. We also offer a no-cost review every three years and ongoing support as needed!
In the probate process, the creditor’s time to file a claim against your estate is four months after the decedent has provided notice. After this claim period ends, a creditor may no longer file a claim against the estate. However, with a trust, creditors retain their right to seek payment of any debts from the estate until the statute of limitations on the debt runs. Typically, the estate’s successor trustee will pay most debts, such as outstanding bills and taxes, out of your trust before distributing funds to beneficiaries.
Why Hire an Attorney?
There are many factors that affect whether a living trust is right for you, including the nuanced tax planning and distribution provisions that vary for every client. The old adage, “you don’t know what you don’t know” was never truer than with a living trust, which is why obtaining legal advice from an experienced estate planning attorney is absolutely essential. Please contact us, and we will provide a detailed assessment of your estate and help you to create a plan that accurately and completely dictates your wishes. We pride ourselves on building lasting, lifetime relationships with our clients. Contact our office for a free 15-minute consultation to discuss whether a living trust is right for you.