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They Don't Call 'Em Trusts For Nothing

Maybe you heard the story about the 60-year-old oil heiress who died and left everything to her husband. He was 71 and died just two months after remarrying a much younger woman, who inherited his first wife’s fortune. The heiress’ children got none of it. Or perhaps you heard about the man who left his son $500,000, which he used to buy a house with his wife. Two years later, they divorced, and she got the house in the settlement.

Then there’s the one about a couple that inherited $250,000 from an uncle but received none of it because the IRS exercised its right to take the inheritance to satisfy back taxes.

Obviously, these aren’t the kinds of stories that you want people to tell about your family. To avoid the possibility of such trouble, you may need to establish a trust.

A trust is an agreement in which you transfer ownership of property to a trustee of your choosing, who then manages it for the benefit of your loved ones. The trust can be funded during your lifetime or at your death if your will provides for it. Typically, it costs between $1,000 and 2,000 to set up a trust, although you might spend more depending on where you live, the legal advisor you use, and the complexity of the trust.

Trusts have long been used by the wealthy to reduce estate and income taxes, but more and more middle-class people are finding trusts can benefit them, too. Appreciation in real estate values over the long term, stock market gains for astute investors, and the slow march of inflation have thrown many middle-class individuals into higher income tax brackets and left them facing the prospect of estate taxes that could decimate the value of bequests to their loved ones.

A bypass trust can ensure that a married couple maximizes its combined estate tax exemption of $4 million (for 2008); a charitable remainder trust can reduce estate taxes while allowing you to do good for your community; and a life insurance trust can help guarantee the amount your heirs will receive. You can also use a trust to direct how the assets you leave behind will be managed, and to ensure that your bequests end up with the intended heirs.

The oil heiress, who had thought she was too young for estate planning and had feared that her 25-year-old son and 27-year-old daughter would squander the money, could have used a trust. She might have set aside some assets in the trust for her children until they were older, or she could have appointed a trusted friend or advisor as trustee to disburse the assets.

A trust also would have left the divorcing son in a better bargaining position to keep his house. Had his father left the money in a trust, allowing a trustee to buy the house for the son, the wife wouldn’t have been able to get it. And the IRS could not have seized the assets in a trust established for the beneficiary with tax problems.

Life is full of surprises, but you can trust a trust.


This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Legend Financial Advisors, Inc.® and is not intended as legal or investment advice.




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